A Parliamentary Scholar speaks - Dr James Bowler
Dr James Bowler is an ST6 Registrar in Child Learning Disability Psychiatry in Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Trust in Bristol and is the College's Parliamentary Scholar to Professor The Baroness Sheila Hollins, former College President and current Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords.
Here he describes his experiences and reflects upon the role.
I had for many years been interested in mental health policy, law and leadership. It fascinated me how the kinds of legislation and protocols that affect our clinical everyday lives actually came about. I had heard of the Parliamentary Scholarship scheme through a friend and senior colleague who had had the privilege some years earlier and I knew straight away that I wanted to work toward applying. I applied during my tenure as Educational Fellow in Severn Deanery as an ST5. I hoped to expand my understanding and experience in this field, and even, if possible, to have an influence.
Given the famously grand and austere environs of the Palace of Westminster, I must say it was rather grounding and reassuring to be greeted with a queue for the ID-card photo, with Induction Packs and numerous visits to the IT service desk in the Library to set up the Intranet and email accounts properly. (Although, with suitable apologies to my otherwise excellent employer of course, I have to admit that the House of Lords Library is a tad grander than the one at home).
I have been greatly honoured to work directly for and with Baroness Hollins as I had hoped for on application. Lady Hollins, being a Learning Disability Psychiatrist herself, is passionate about using her expertise and experience to help effect real change to benefit some of the most vulnerable members of our society - those with learning disabilities and autism and mental health difficulties. This is a motive very dear to me as well and the opportunities I have been able to pursue here have been widely varied, wholly useful and greatly interesting.
Every day at Lady Hollins' office in 1, Millbank will be different. My work can involve briefing Lady Hollins on a topic as part of an upcoming committee meeting or debate in either the House of Lords or House of Commons and preparing relevant material. This has led to my being able to write speeches and questions for Lady Hollins to ask the Government on a pressing topic that is up for debate for example. Important issues relevant to us which I have been able to help Lady Hollinson and contribute to have included the Amendment to the Mental Capacity Act legislation, the interplay of this with Sir Simon Wessely's Review of the Mental Health Act and the plight of CAMHS teams and the crisis of children's mental health nationwide. Hearing your words read-out in the Chamber or getting a written response from the Government does feel rather exciting.
(I've even been able to write a draft amendment - specifically on ensuring the right to education within the Capacity Act).
I've also been able to get involved with Lady Hollins' work alongside the Lords- Books Beyond Words. Her venture to help remove the barriers that can be faced by many with learning disabilities or autism who find it very difficult to read words by promoting the use of bespoke books with pictures. I have been able to become a trainer of GPs and Nurses in using the books with patients and look to continue this going forward. It has been an excellent insight into how we can work together to ensure reasonable adjustments are made for our patients so that they might not lose out when it comes to the things in life we take for granted - like accessing health and social care and work.
I think this is an appropriate point at which to sum-up. There are many great opportunities and experiences to be had as a Parliamentary Scholar. In the end it comes back to what we as doctors can do to make a positive difference - to our patients' care, to our service and to ourselves. I have found that I can usefully apply my own skills and my on-the- ground clinical and academic experience to my work with Lady Hollins in this role. I have also been able to utilise my enthusiasm for teaching to share this experience through numerous publications and presentations.
I have found that those that make our laws and policies are real and enthusiastic people who want to listen and who want to be reliably informed. We as doctors can do our part to help in this. A question might not always get a direct answer from a politician - but this is not necessarily a revelation, nor to be expected. But being able to be in the right place, with the right drive, at the right time in order to help ask the right questions has been a thoroughly enjoyable and most invaluable experience.
I am grateful to Lady Hollins, to the Royal College Team - especially Professor Burn as well as Jonathan and Olivia and to the BMA.
Better dash, it’s a long walk to the other end of the Committee Room Corridor.
The application deadline for the RCPsych Parliamentary Scholar Programme is July 31 2019.
This blog was original published as part of the April 2019 eNewsletter.