Hello from your new President
24 July, 2020
I’m writing this blog, my very first as RCPsych President, in my makeshift office at my home in Devon thinking of you all and the array of spaces you inhabit to carry out clinical, management, academic and College work for the benefit of patients.
Adapting to challenges
I know that the pandemic has presented us with unprecedented challenges, and I’ve been more impressed than ever with the innovation and fortitude shown by all of you, our members, to keep our services and all that supports them running at this difficult time.
I’m also reminded that the crisis has presented some of you with traumatic situations personally and in your work. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to you all and I believe the public recognises this. I want to thank you on behalf of the College for all that you do and hope to be able to offer you every support.
The College headquarters in Prescot Street has only a handful of staff working there currently and no face-to-face meetings. This period really has underlined that the College is all of you – its members – and the functions of the College have continued at a pace. I wanted to thank our Chief Executive Paul Rees and his staff for the support they are giving to members and for adjusting to COVID-19 in such a positive way.
I would like say a big thank you to Wendy Burn, my predecessor, for all she has done for the College and the way in which she went about her work in such a positive and inclusive way. I already miss her guidance, help and support. I’m delighted to welcome Dr Trudi Seneviratne to her role as Registrar. Trudi brings a wealth of experience and knowledge and will be such an asset to the College and all that it does.
Since taking office at the start of July I have chaired my first Council and Trustee Board and have been meeting individually with newly elected chairs of College committees. I want to build on RCPsych’s relationships with other Medical Royal Colleges and so I have been meeting individually with their Presidents.
I’ve been pleased to find a real willingness on the part of the medical community to recognise mental health as central to the health and well-being of all patients. I hope to build on this in order to get closer to achieving equity between services for mental and physical health.
The highlight of my first month was the news that we have achieved almost 100% recruitment into core training in psychiatry. This is a huge achievement and would not have been possible without all of you promoting psychiatry as the amazing career that it is. You have been going into schools, talking to foundation doctors, engaging with medical school Psychiatry Societies and generally supporting those who are interested in a career in our specialty.
Thank you to all of you. Kate Lovett and Helen Bruce have played major roles and deserve our thanks along with our College communications and training and workforce teams for running the Choose Psychiatry campaign and in particular Bex Couper.
What’s in store?
My four priorities as president are achieving equity between mental and physical health, supporting the workforce, championing equality and diversity and sustainability.
The College has recently completed a major piece of work on mental health services in the NHS in England following COVID-19, calling for a fair package of funding, and this is now with the Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England ahead of the Government’s Autumn Spending Review.I’ve met with the Chairs of all our devolved nations and I know that they are also engaged with their respective NHS systems to ensure that neither the best innovations during COVID-19 nor the best of what happened before are lost.
We can expect a significant increase in mental illness as a result of the pandemic and we are working hard to ensure that UK Governments take this as seriously as the physical effects of the virus.
I’ve appointed two presidential leads on race equality – Dr Lade Smith and Dr Raj Mohan. We will need their expertise and guidance to take this agenda forward. We will be having the first of our Equality and Race Equality task force meetings in the next week. This will be focused on action as there is so much we need to do now.
A powerful account
I have also been hugely grateful to have had the chance to meet (virtually, of course) the renowned actor David Harewood and to hear his powerful account of his experience of psychosis and his reflections on his treatment, the role of racism in this and how we could improve care for patients. I would highly recommend that you watch the interview and would like to express huge thanks again to David for his significant contribution to combating stigma.
I’ve been privileged to join a number of roundtables to discuss the climate and ecological emergency and mental health services and the expert reference group that will develop our strategy around this is already meeting. I’m looking forward to updating you with our plans in this area soon.
We have ambitious plans for workforce well-being and our Associate Registrar for well-being and retention, Mihaela Burcur is leading our work in this area.
Cancelling our exam schedule due to COVID-19 was a really difficult and sad step that had to be taken. I know this has been a source of great stress to all our trainees. The good news is that the College has prioritised digitising all aspects of the exam and that these will now be available as a remote offer. Our members and College staff have worked tirelessly to achieve this in record time.
I wanted to thank all of you who are examiners who are so willing to engage with the new system. We need you now more than even so we can respond to the needs of our trainees.
South Asian History Month
Finally, the College has been celebrating South Asian History Month during July. It has been both moving and upsetting to hear the experiences of so many of you in relation to racism and disadvantage when you have been trying to give so much. It was uplifting to hear your accounts of overcoming these challenges to give such high quality service to patients and the College. Thank you to all of you and I hope that the College can continue to improve its support to you.
I hope you will manage to take some time for yourself and those you love over the summer.