Last train journey as President
26 June, 2020
I am actually writing this on a train! A rather dystopian journey with scary announcements, few passengers and compulsory face-masks, but I am definitely on a train. I’m on my way home to Yorkshire after spending a few days in London clearing out the College flat and office (by the way Simon Wessely, there was still some of your stuff there which I have now disposed of).
On the 1st July, in just a few days’ time, I will cease to be your President and will hand over to Dr Adrian James. The three years have flown by, it seems like yesterday that I was in Edinburgh at our International Congress, taking up office and giving my first speech at the Gala dinner. I still find it hard to believe that an ordinary jobbing psychiatrist, working in the North of England, became President of the College. It has been the honour of my life.
Travelling the world
As President I have traveled throughout the UK and beyond. I have literally been around the world. I have met amazing people, eminent academics, people getting on with delivering frontline care, trainees and medical students who will be the future of our brilliant profession, and patients and carers who help to shape our services. I have found friends everywhere and have met up with many psychiatrists that I worked with in the past or trained.
I have had experiences that I never dreamt of. I have met Royalty and politicians and the people who make policy in the highest places. I have walked the corridors of power and trodden in the footsteps of history. I have visited palaces and Parliament. I have influenced those with the power to improve how our services are funded and delivered. I have met people who are totally dissatisfied with those services and tried to understand their point of view and have made changes which I hope have helped them.
I have stroked Larry the cat at number 10 Downing Street.
Hasn’t all been good…
I have also had my fair share of negative experiences. Regular readers and those of you who follow me on Twitter will be aware of the frustration and discomfort of regular train travel. I have been lost, tired and uncomfortable. I have been so wet that I had to empty large volumes of water out of my shoes (Labour Party Conference in Brighton). I have battled through the Beast from the East (Old Age Faculty conference in Nottingham). I have frequently been home-sick. What I have never been is bored, lonely or living a life lacking in excitement.
What have I and the College achieved?
I started my term of office with a statement of my priorities. Naturally other things have become important along the way but what were my main promises and did I keep them?
My first priority was holding the Government to account on funding for services. At the time I wrote this I had no idea that the Long Term Plan for the NHS in England would come along, but come along it did and College staff and members rose to the challenge. Through our tireless influencing and campaigning work we achieved a promise to grow investment in mental health services faster than the NHS budget overall for each of the next five years.
Unsurprisingly recruitment was another priority. This has been important to me since I first became involved with the College back in 1990 as a College tutor. The credit goes far beyond me but I’m delighted to report that it has improved in each of the last three years. This year’s figure is under embargo but it’s the best yet.
Retention was also a priority. Again, this has improved and the number of psychiatrists is a new record high since NHS Digital stated to collect the data in 2009.
In April 2018, I oversaw the roll out of the College values of Courage, Innovation, Respect, Collaboration, Learning and Excellence (C.I.R.C.L.E.). These values have reshaped the College, making it far more inclusive and responsive to our members’ needs. It has led to our celebrating Pride, Black History Month, International Women’s Day and – next month – our very own, bespoke celebration called South Asian History Month. It was in large part due to the College values, that we were named Charity of the Year at the European Diversity Awards in 2019, which was a very proud and important moment for our College.
I want to give a special shout out to what has happened in the devolved nations, although I can’t really take any credit for this.
In 2018 Devolved Councils of College were rolled out across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These gave more authority to our members in the devolved nations to engage directly with their governments and media channels. This has been highly effective.
RCPsych in Wales Chair, Keith Lloyd, is also departing, to be succeeded by Maria Atkins. He has been a fantastic Chair and Wales has benefited. This is reflected in the fill rate for psychiatry training in Wales which hit 100% for the first time ever
RCPsych in Northern Ireland Chair Gerry Lynch is handing over to Richard Wilson. During a period with no functioning executive from January 2017 to January this year, Gerry played a key role in ensuring that mental health services in Northern Ireland have not been overlooked. He brought together the Mental Health Policy Group NI – the first informal coalition of professional and voluntary organisations working together to improve mental health and wellbeing in Northern Ireland.
In Scotland, where John Crichton remains Chair, there have also been significant improvements in many areas of policy and NHS Education for Scotland has agreed to fund a large increase in activities to support recruitment.
What I never predicted when I set my priorities was the need to steer the College through a pandemic. I didn’t expect to be the first President to close all the College buildings and to cancel International Congress, or to postpone sittings of the MRCPsych exams. I wanted to make the College less London-centric but I didn’t actually anticipate leading it from my home in Ilkley…
I am confident that when the pandemic is over the new College that emerges will be able to react more quickly, be more sustainable and also more inclusive.
Handing over the baton
On the 1st of July the gold Chain of Office will pass virtually through cyberspace from me to Adrian. This will be a bittersweet moment for me. I’ll be sad to go but happy that the College is in good hands and content in the knowledge that Adrian will have fresh energy to build on what I have done and to take it further.
Thank you to every one of you, it’s because of its members that more people are able to access high quality mental health services and that the College is held in such high regard. I couldn’t have done any of it without your support. I look forward to happier times when the College re-opens its doors to welcome us back.