An update from the President on COVID-19
23 March, 2020
Less than two weeks ago we were cancelling College events with over 100 participants until the end of March and wondering if we were over reacting. Since then we have cancelled all events until the end of May, cancelled a sitting of Paper B and closed all College offices with all staff working from home.
New information on COVID-19 in mental health services
Last week the whole policy team and a group of expert psychiatrists worked around the clock in collaboration with NHSE/I and the Royal College of Nursing to produce some guidance for clinicians around how to cope with COVID-19 in mental health services. This is now on our website. We hope some of the guidance may be adopted in the devolved nations.
We will be constantly updating this and there is a section for you to ask questions.
Please do visit these pages and share them with your colleagues.
Cancelling Paper B was the hardest of many difficult decisions that we had to take. Those planning to take it had worked towards it for months and are keen to progress, we desperately need more trained and qualified psychiatrists. In the end we had no choice. All candidates will have their fees refunded and their validity period extended. The examinations team is urgently investigating alternative arrangements and we will make an announcement soon.
Due to the need to enforce social distancing, all College conferences and events have been cancelled until the end of May. Full refunds have been issued automatically. We will keep all future events under review. We are still hoping to hold the International Congress in June depending on how the situation evolves.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
During the pandemic there will be no limit on e-learning that can be counted for CPD; it will be possible for all 50 credits to be obtained in this way. Any modules from the College CPD Online will be automatically acceptable, as will the e-learning modules from the British Association for Psychopharmacology – subscription to these is available at a reduced rate for those who subscribe to College CPD Online. We are planning to release some free learning modules that are automatically approved for CPD to College members to support remote learning whilst our conferences and face-to-face training is suspended. We will also be looking at how to deliver further additional material online.
The College has 236 committees – including Trustees, Council, FMC, Faculties, Devolved Councils, Divisions and Special Interest Groups – and it has been decided that, at least until the end of May, all College committee meetings must be held ‘virtually’. College staff will stage the ‘virtual’ committee meetings via the Microsoft Teams platform. I know that many of you will be too busy with clinical work to attend, our patients must come first. If you have booked travel to come to College meetings please cancel this. We will of course still refund if you are unable to get your money returned.
Temporary changes to Mental Health Act
The Coronavirus Bill plans to temporarily change the Mental Health Act 1983 England and Wales (MHA) to allow certain functions relating to the detention and treatment of patients to be carried out with fewer doctors’ opinions or certifications. It will also temporarily allow for the extension or removal of certain time limits relating to the detention and transfer of patients.
The emergency Coronavirus Bill also amends the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 and the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986. The Bill has not yet become a law and even when it has most of the measures will not necessarily come into effect straight away. Local areas will have the ability to trigger the provisions when necessary due to extreme shortage.
The Department of Health and Social Care are working on updating the MHA Code of Practice to reflect these emergency changes and the College is working with them. We will keep you as up to date on this as possible.
Election of new College Registrar
The planned election for a new College Registrar will still go ahead. This is because the role of Registrar will become vacant in the summer when our current Registrar, Dr Adrian James, succeeds me as President,
The Registrar role is essential for the College. It is responsible for overseeing our work engaging with the government and the media, as well as for membership engagement. The post-holder is also the person who substitutes for the President if they become incapacitated. We are lucky enough to have four brilliant candidates – Dr Peter Aitken, Professor Mohammed Al-Uzri, Dr Raj Mohan, Dr Trudi Seneviratne OBE. It will be difficult for you to choose between them but please do take the time to vote. Whoever wins the election will be part of leading the College though a tricky landscape once this crisis is over.
All College staff are now working from home for the foreseeable future. Our London headquarters, at 21 Prescot Street, will close temporarily on Friday 27 March.
While our staff will strive to deliver the same high level of service as usual, there will inevitably be some glitches and challenges over the next few weeks and months, as they work in new ways, without access to any of our offices. Staff are contactable on their usual emails and landline phone numbers, as these have been diverted.
As a College we are losing a proportion of our income with the cancellation of our events. The good news is that we are entering this crisis in a strong financial position with good reserves and a building, in central London, that we own. We may even learn new ways of doing things that we want to continue with when the pandemic is over.
All our lives have been turned upside down. The unimaginable has been actioned and we now know only too well what is to come. As John Lennon so famously said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
The College will survive and will be here to support you in any way that we can. We will get through this together.
I wish all of you, your colleagues and your families all the very best at this challenging time.