As I move through my second year as President the work has
increased with my involvement in more areas.
Most of my time is now spent on College business although I
still cling to my one day’s clinical work in Leeds.
One of the biggest things on most people’s agenda at the moment,
both in Leeds and when I’m at the College, is workforce.
BYOC (Bring Your Own Caffeine)
I spend a lot of time in various meetings discussing this and
how we can recruit and retain the staff that will enable us to
provide the services that our patients deserve.
These meetings take place in nicely decorated rooms with
comfortable chairs and air conditioning. Sometimes (if arranged at
short notice) they are even in hotels. There is free tea and
coffee, snacks and mineral water and wifi access.
On Mondays I do my clinic in Leeds. The building is well past
its sell by date. I have to take my own coffee and milk. There is
no food available even to purchase.
There is wifi but neither I or the patients can use it. There is
no air conditioning. One room does not even have a window although
you’ll be pleased to hear that after a year I have graduated out of
The computers are on their last legs. This, as you will all
know, is massively stressful, and far from efficient. I always
arrive 30 minutes early to allow mine to warm up and to log on to
all the sites I need but today it wouldn’t start at all.
Doing a clinic without access to a computer would be very
difficult if not dangerous, even for someone like me who remembers
the days when we only had paper with nostalgic wistfulness. Luckily
IT agreed with me that this was an emergency and were able to fix
“Little” things could make a big difference
As I go about the UK I hear the same from the psychiatrists I
meet. What I have learnt to call “hygiene” factors are hugely
important. These include parking, access to some personal space and
the issues I have already mentioned.
If we could sort these out I’m convinced that retention rates
I am doing all I can to change things but please talk to your
Trusts about this and emphasise the importance. Both staff and
patients deserve it.
I’m aware as I write this I can sound as if I don’t enjoy my
job, that’s not the case.
After all these years and despite the grotty surroundings and
grumbling about IT failures, I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for
psychiatry and happily encourage medical students to choose
psychiatry with genuine enthusiasm.
I still find the work fascinating and even after over 30 years I
meet new situations and every clinical day is interesting.
One of the things I love most about my work as a psychiatrist is
the unique combination of the social, the psychological and the
physical. Two very different experience illustrated that
My first trip was to Northampton for the official opening of the
Centre for Neuromodulation. This Trust has just been rated as
Outstanding by the CQC and you can see why.
From the CEO and the Medical Director downwards the staff are
exceptionally warm, enthusiastic and welcoming. I met
patients whose lives have been changed by rTMS and was even able to
try a little treatment myself…
As part of the College’s interest in social prescribing I
visited Fieldhead hospital in Wakefield, near home for me. They
have been working in this area for years. I was shown around by an
inspirational woman who became unwell as a child and was on a huge
amount of medication.
She discovered a talent for painting and now sells her artwork,
some of which is displayed in the hospital. She was gradually able
to reduce and stop her medication and has remained well. Other
patients have taken up gardening, music and sculpture.
It was really good to see this work supported at the highest
level within the Trust, another example of leadership allowing
development that benefit patients.
Our new Secretary of State has an interest in Social Prescribing
and it’s something that the College will be exploring. As we do
this we mustn’t forget the basics. Many of our patients live in
poverty, not helped by the recent changes to the social security
We are producing a guide for Mental Health Staff who are
supporting their patients in applications for these benefits but
meanwhile I recommend an excellent
article in the magazine Asylum, Supporting Claimants: a
practical guide by Jay Watts.
We may not be able to do all that she suggests but every little
helps and there isn’t much point in prescribing medication for our
patients if they can’t afford food or a roof over their heads.
Enjoy the last few days of summer and I hope to see some of you
on my travels this autumn.
Professor Wendy Burn
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