Well here I am at the end of my first year as President. I have
somehow navigated through the hardest 12 months of my career and
survived. At times its been enjoyable, at times terrifying but
never ever boring.
One of my biggest worries when I started was speeches. I have
never been a person who can just stand up and talk without
preparation or notes.
I was reassured by my son who said "Mum, they probably voted for
you because you don’t make long speeches." In fact, the speeches
have been the least of my worries and for my first Presidential
Address at congress I felt confident enough to insert a short
recording of some rap music...
Best Congress ever
Congress this year was for me the best ever.
It’s hard to pick out the highlights as everything was so good
but introducing Baroness Hale, the first woman President of the
Supreme Court, was a huge privilege. Her speech was entitled "Is it
time for yet another Mental Health Act?". It was thought provoking
and uncompromisingly direct and honest.
Hale’s speech (PDF).
Another highlight was hearing Joanna Cannon, psychiatrist and
best-selling author, talk about how she became a writer and the
connection between storytelling and Psychiatry.
As she said "the thing I have learnt since being published is
that we all have a story to tell. Stories connect us".
And of course, Psychiatrists love stories and we are lucky to
hear so many of them.
Althea Stewart, President of the American Psychiatric
Association, produced my favourite quote of the conference: "It’s
easier to build strong children than repair broken men".
This was originally said by Frederick Douglass, an
African-American statesman who, having escaped from slavery, became
a leader of the abolitionist movement. It is as relevant today as
when he first said it.
I could go on about Congress for ever. I hope you were lucky
enough to have experienced it for yourself.
I am really sorry that we sold out and that some of you were
disappointed. The increased numbers took us by surprise and we will
try out best to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Next year we will
be in a larger venue in London from 1st to
4th of July.
Another excitement for me was the publication of a book that I
have a chapter in,
Women’s Voices in Psychiatry: A Collection of Essays, edited by
If you want to find out how I ended up as President, and the
trouble I had with carrots at school, you’ll need to buy it to find
Any profit will go to the College to be used towards bursaries
for trainee women psychiatrists.
After Congress the next big event was the 70th
birthday of the NHS.
My mother was a practising doctor in 1948 when the NHS was
formed and she gave me a vivid description of how wonderful it was
for ordinary people to know that they could get whatever treatment
they needed, free at the point of delivery.
One of the first patients she treated was so overwhelmed that he
gave her a present of 12 dozen (i.e. 144) turkeys’ eggs. At this
time food was still rationed so this was very exciting.
She managed to take them home on the train to her mother who
preserved them in Isinglass.
NHS has changed – but more change needed
The NHS now is unrecognisable from how it was when it began but
the principles are the same, including "comprehensiveness within
But the needs of people with mental illness have not been truly
considered part of that "comprehensive" healthcare.
It’s time now that Mental Health Services are resourced to the
same level as physical health services and we truly do implement
parity of esteem.
We need to invest in staff and infrastructure and to encourage a
greater number of medical students to choose psychiatry.
That way we will finally be able to provide comprehensive care
that our patients deserve.
Professor Wendy Burn
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