This past month has definitely been the most exciting since I
started as President.
I frequently get asked if I enjoy the role. It’s hard to know
what to say.
The truth is that it’s an incredible privilege, that I’m
constantly out of my comfort zone and I never know what will happen
So “enjoyable” doesn’t really cover it...
This month I’ve not just been out of my comfort zone, I’ve been
in entirely different time zones.
Taking Neuroscience to the Big Apple
My first stop in a very international month was New York to
attend the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting.
I was there to talk about the Gatsby Wellcome Neuroscience
project and also about how we as a College work with the government
to develop policy in the UK.
The Neuroscience project was really well received and prompted
lots of interesting comments and questions from the audience.
The one that really stood out for me was from an American
trainee who said that he and a group of colleagues had been
teaching themselves neuroscience from online resources and would
like this to be formalised.
This of course is exactly what we are already doing in the
If you are involved in delivering training and want to learn
more about how to teach the latest in neuroscience please keep up
with our next Braincamp in Birmingham
on 1 June.
Also have a look at the short video
“Connecting brain and mind” from the 2018 Spring Neuroscience
conference in Cambridge. Look out for full videos of talks from the
conference which will be available soon.
There was fascinating feedback and discussion on the policy talk
The other speakers and the audience came from many different
countries but nowhere had the access to the key decision makers
that we enjoy.
Indeed, in the USA you sometimes even have to pay politicians if
you want to meet them. We are very lucky that our democratic system
and the respect with which the College is held allows us
opportunity to influence at the top.
And influence at the top was exactly what I had to do at very
I had to fly back early from New York to attend a dinner at 10
Downing Street to talk about the future of the NHS together with
the Presidents of the other Royal Colleges. It seems likely that
there will be some good news on this soon.
We were entertained in the State Drawing rooms and it was hard
for me to believe that I was a visitor in a place where so many
influential and important events have taken place.
One of the items of discussion was the
interim report of the Independent Review of the Mental Health
Act, led by Simon Wessely.
This is well worth reading, though it contains no surprises, and
reflects the need for improvement in the care we provide for
We (meaning many members across a range of College Faculties)
will continue to collaborate closely with Simon’s team over the
next few months to help develop solutions in the areas identified
as needing work.
And did I mention that I met Larry the cat? The evening was
purr-fected by the resident cat in Number 10, Larry. Not only did I
get a photo of him outside on my way in, when I left he was curled
up in the hall and he let me stroke him.
To the Southern Hemisphere
After a quick 24 hour turn around at home to do the laundry and
to stroke my own cats I was off again. This time to New Zealand to
attend the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of
Psychiatrists (RANZCP) Congress in Auckland.
While there I took part in a ‘Women in Leadership’ symposium
chaired by RANZCP President, Dr Kym Jenkins. Myself and three other
women were on stage to be asked questions.
This was rather nerve racking but to my surprise I actually
enjoyed it. Even better was the conference dinner where we were
treated to a traditional Māori haka or war dance.
College successes on the home front…
Back in the UK the College team, staff and volunteers have been
hard at work. In particular the Perinatal Faculty, headed up by
Trudi Seneviratne, has had some notable events.
The first of these is the change in the licence for Valproate,
used to treat bipolar disorder, so that it can no longer be
prescribed to women of child-bearing potential unless she is on a
pregnancy prevention programme.
This is because children born to women who take Valproate during
pregnancy are at significant risk of birth defects and persistent
It is important that all clinicians are aware of this and that
all women are better informed about the risks of Valproate. We will
be working with other Royal Colleges and government bodies to make
sure changes are implemented and affected women are supported.
There has also been huge progress in the provision of Perinatal
services. Seven thousand more women have received
specialist support for perinatal mental illness from expanded
As part of this we have worked closely with NHS England and HEE
to deliver a perinatal bursary scheme to train up more
psychiatrists to become perinatal specialists. 100% of the
psychiatrists who completed this now have, or will have, perinatal
consultant psychiatric jobs in their local areas which is
This, together with the new wave of targeted funding, will help
ensure that new and expectant mothers will be able access
specialist perinatal community services in every part of England by
This is a great example of how extra funding, innovative
thinking and determination enables improvement in psychiatric
Here’s hoping that before too long there will be more good news
on the financial front.