Looking back and moving forward: the College gears up for autumn
24 September, 2020
The summer is over but on the day of my writing, the sun is very much shining. I do hope you all managed a break in the last couple of months, and have managed to recharge at least some of your batteries.
Making your voice heard loud and clear
I'm still very much aware of the effect that COVID-19 has had on you all in your personal and professional lives, and that for some of you the effects are deep and long-lasting. My thoughts are with you all as we go into a very uncertain period which is likely to be extremely challenging for us and those we care for.
Over the summer I have been making sure that psychiatry has a strong voice at this time, and that the effects on mental health and our services is clear.
In the last week I've had meetings with the Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Whitty, who also chairs the UK wide Chief Medical Officers Group. I've also met with the Health and Social Care Secretary for England Matt Hancock and the Chief Executive of NHS England Sir Simon Stevens. I've stressed the particular challenges we have, and the importance of focusing on the needs of our patients and protecting our staff physically and psychologically.
MRCPsych goes digital
The greatest challenge for the College in September has been digitising all elements of our MRCPsych exam. This was a huge task done at great speed because of the necessity to do all we can to support our trainees to progress. I'm pleased to say that this has been achieved and that we have just finished two weeks of the CASC examination when 476 candidates completed an entirely new process remotely.
This has been an epic achievement and I want to thank our examiners, who have embraced the new approach and shown great flexibility, and our staff who have worked night and day to bring this about. The people who have led this work in particular are Chief Examiner Dr Ian Hall, our Dean Dr Kate Lovett and our Director of Professional Standards Sonia Walter, along with many others. I wish all the candidates the best of luck and thank them for taking part with great commitment. After a lot of hard work everything was able to run smoothly. And, as is inevitable in such a big undertaking, there is lots to learn from which will be factored in for the future.
Putting addiction psychiatry at the top of the agenda
On Tuesday, 15 September we published an analysis of public health figures on hazardous drinking which had shown a huge increase during the pandemic. We used this to draw attention to the poor funding of addiction services and to call for significant extra investment ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Our call reached the front page of many of the national newspapers, as well as live television and radio interviews. I'm grateful to Professor Julia Sinclair, Chair of our Addictions Faculty, for the work that she put into this, and we are hoping for a positive outcome from the Treasury in Autumn. We must prioritise addiction services. There is clearly great need, and our members are committed, but we need the resources and a framework to go with it.
Progressing the College's equality strategy
Our roundtables concerning the College’s equality strategy have begun to meet.
In the race equality event focusing on the functioning of the College there was a clear feeling that we need to do much more to support our staff and members. This is the right thing to do, and will also help improve the performance of the College.
We need to look at our leadership at all levels, and all our systems and processes, to ensure feedback and continuous improvement. I’m determined that this will be an ongoing focus during my presidency.
I was humbled to meet remotely with my equivalent in Belarus to hear about the difficult situation many are facing there, the threat to their safety, and the number of challenges in working as a psychiatrist in the current circumstances. We have offered our full support, and are providing educational and training materials at their request. I'm grateful to our Presidential Lead on International Affairs Professor Mohammed Al-Uzri for his unstinting work on the global stage.
September’s good news
We had some extremely good news this week when Paul Rees won The Louis Armstrong CEO Leadership Award at the Memcom awards, and our Choose Psychiatry campaign won in its own award for the Best Integrated Marketing or Membership Campaign category. These are both richly deserved and a product of a huge amount of work and commitment. Thanks to Bex Couper, who led so much of our work on the campaign.
Finally, I’m glad that we have friends in high places and I was pleased to recently meet individually with Dr Navina Evans. Navina is a psychiatrist by profession and currently Chair of the East London NHS Foundation Trust, but she will take over as Chief Executive of Health Education England in October. We are hopeful that throughout the whole of the UK the numbers of training posts in psychiatry will be significantly expanded now that we have shown that we can fill all vacancies at core training level. There is much to be done, but I'm optimistic that by working together we can achieve great things.
I hope you have a safe, fulfilling and successful autumn. Look after yourselves and each other.