Talking psychiatry in three time zones
22 May, 2018
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 next.
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 UK!
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 I gave.
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 short notice.
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 detained patients.
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 developmental disorders.
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 services.
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 fantastic.
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 April 2019.
This is a great example of how extra funding, innovative thinking and determination enables improvement in psychiatric services.
Here’s hoping that before too long there will be more good news on the financial front.