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Are you a trainspotter?

I am writing this at Birmingham New Street Station. It’s Friday afternoon and I’m waiting for a train home. I could compile a comprehensive guide to Stations in the UK, Birmingham is one of the best. It has more shops and restaurants than you could ever visit, a Premier Inn next door, clean free toilets, plentiful taxis and even charging points for electrical devices.

If you like hanging around in stations, there is a big opportunity coming up. Nominations for our next President are now open.

We are a democratic College, you don’t need to be a member of Council to be put forward, you just need to be sponsored by 12 members who agree that you are a suitable person. 

Good luck to anyone who stands, it is a truly amazing experience.

A royal prescription

This month has been busy with exciting things. We hosted a social prescribing conference jointly with NHS England. A highlight of this was a video (included in our May enewsletter ) made by our patron, Prince Charles, who has done significant work in social prescribing himself and is very much in support of our activities in this area.

The aim of the day was to begin a network across the country of social prescribing leads within mental health organisations to support the development of social prescribing services both in primary care and in secondary mental health care.

I attended a meeting of the Volunteering and international Special Interest Group (VIPSIG). It was great to see such enthusiasm and innovation in the area of volunteering.

They are always keen to initiate new projects so if you have any connections overseas where there might be volunteering opportunities please email catherine.langley@rcpsych.ac.uk

Collaborating to improve guidance on anti-depressants

Some of you may remember that last year I co-signed a letter to the Times about discontinuing antidepressants. 

Based on NICE guidance on antidepressant discontinuation the letter stated that “symptoms are usually mild and self-limiting over about one week”. This sparked a furore with people reporting symptoms that lasted much longer.

There was intense interest from the media, trolling on social media and formal complaints were made to the College and the GMC.

This was surprising to me as withdrawal problems had never been a major issue in my practice, perhaps because I was taught early in my training that all psychotropic medication should be slowly tapered when it is stopped.

I discovered many people on social media reporting problems, large online support communities for them and projects to support them. I also talked to GPs who told me that coming off antidepressants could be a problem for their patients. 

As a result of we collaborated with psychiatrists, patients, NICE, GPs, PHE and campaigners, to produce a new College position statement on antidepressants and depression.

On the issue of withdrawal, we said “Whilst the withdrawal symptoms which arise on and after stopping antidepressants are often mild and self-limiting, there can be substantial variation in people’s experience, with symptoms lasting much longer and being more severe for some patients”.

The position statement was launched earlier this month, it made the front page of the Daily Mail and there were more national TV and radio interviews.

We are now working on a patient information leaflet about discontinuing antidepressants and NICE is expected to update its guideline on diagnosis and management of depression in adults.

Join us on the watch out for better mental health service  

Another big source of excitement was the launch of Mental Health Watch.

This is a new College site that enables people to see how their local services in England are performing. It brings together data from NHS England, the NHS Staff Survey, the Care Quality Commission, NHS Improvement and Open Prescribing.

This data is augmented by findings from a research panel of member psychiatrists from , who we survey quarterly to gauge views of people working in the trusts, delivering services of critical issues such as access, workforce and leadership. 

The launch took place in Parliament and was attended by many MPs, showing that mental health remains high up on the political agenda.

They told me of constituents of theirs who have not received the care they deserve from our services and that the need for more funding is clearly accepted.

They gave us lots of positive feedback about Mental Health Watch and promised to use the data to campaign for better services in their constituencies. Lack of data on mental health services has made it difficult to monitor how quickly people can access services or the quality of care.

It has also hampered effective service planning and delivery. After the College has campaigned for years to improve data on mental health services, Mental Health Watch is an important tool in ensuring that the data that now is collected in England can be used to best effect.

While the data published on mental health services has improved over recent years there are still gaps in this data and it is not as comprehensive as the data available for physical health services.

Across the four UK nations data is gathered differently, and RCPsych is campaigning in each region to ensure that information about service delivery is as transparent as possible.

RCPsych has begun compiling quarterly data bulletins for Scotland, and twice-yearly bulletins for Wales which will shortly be available online.

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland the College is at the forefront of lobbying for a much needed publicly available data set for mental health services, while some progress has been made such as the expansion of a benchmarking network, there is still a long way to go.

Lots of new faces

And as if there hadn’t been enough excitement, the figures are just in for recruitment to core training for August this year. The number of trainees recruited was the highest since we started recording the numbers and some places achieved 100% fill rates.

This is really good news. It reflects the success of the #ChoosePsychiatry recruitment campaign, but more crucially it is the success of all of you. Most of the trainees I meet have come into our specialty after being inspired by a particular psychiatrist.

So please continue to be your inspirational selves so that even more people will follow us into the best career possible to be able to help more people with mental illness. 

Blog Author
Prof Wendy Burn

President

Wendy was elected President of the College in 2017. She holds this role until 2020 and leads the RCPsych on behalf of its members and associates.