Marking a year of COVID-19
25 March, 2021
It's been one year since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK would be entering a period of lockdown. Most consider this the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK and I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on the highs and lows of the last year.
In my previous monthly blog post, I spoke about experiencing great NHS care firsthand during my stay in hospital. However, all health and care staff throughout the last year have demonstrated dedication, adaptability and innovation. I’ve seen this within my own team in a low secure unit. They’ve delivered care under the most challenging circumstances; while managing infection prevention and control, adapting to use non-verbal communication while wearing masks and looking after patients with COVID-19.
Nevertheless, I must also reflect on some of the challenges we’ve faced. At the start of the pandemic, some of our members were reporting extreme shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which placed them at heightened risk. In many cases, wards operated at reduced capacity due to social distancing and staff being unwell or self-isolating. We also know that some groups were far more vulnerable than others; it soon became clear that those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities were at greater risk from COVID-19.
However, the primary issues we’re facing now have evolved. Our focus must be on those that haven’t received the mental health care that they needed. I’ll continue to work tirelessly to ensure that we are able to meet the expected increased demand and have the right resources for the unprecedentedly high levels of routine contacts. Although some additional funding has been committed, this challenge will require sustained investment in our buildings, services and most importantly, the wellbeing of our staff.
Without doubt, this has been a year of unparalleled working across the health and care sector. The Royal Colleges have demonstrated effective collaboration and I’ve been struck by their support for ensuring mental health is firmly on the agenda.
We continue to have regular meetings with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Chief Medical Officer, which I hope to continue beyond the end of the pandemic. In addition, NHS England and Improvement have worked shoulder to shoulder with us to help keep mental health services going throughout the pandemic. Thanks to our joint efforts our website contains a plethora of up-to-date operational guidance for clinicians and mental health settings haven’t been forgotten.
It is safe to say that all our lives will never be the same again and, for some, what we have lost will be permanent. Yet it is clear that this past year has also shown the NHS at its best.
25 amazing women psychiatrists
In March, like many others, we celebrate International Women’s Day. This year was particularly special for the College as the Women and Mental Health Special Interest Group have marked their 25th anniversary.
They did this through their 25 Women project highlighting the stories of 25 women psychiatrists through written narratives, blog posts and much more. I was lucky enough to speak at the launch of their short film.
These stories remind us of the incredible contribution women have and continue to make to psychiatry and I urge you all to look at what has been shared.
Eating Disorders Week
The 1-7 March was Eating Disorders Week and the College, along with many of our partners, raised awareness of some of the challenges COVID-19 has presented to those who suffer from these illnesses.
I wrote in The Independent about how lockdowns have meant people living with an eating disorder have lost the support networks that are so vital to their recovery. This, coupled with reduced access to community services and workforce shortages, has sadly meant more people are reaching the point of crisis.
I’ll continue to fight for the vital support that is needed to help this vulnerable group.
New ways of working
I was excited to be able to speak at the College’s first ever Patients and Carers conference this month. This event was held as a result of our new model for engaging with patients and carers called Working Together, introduced in 2019. Co-production is vital to the College’s work and will help to ensure that we make the most appropriate recommendations for improvements to mental health services. It was wonderful to hear such thoughtful feedback during the event.
On this same note, our College Centre for Quality Improvement (CCQI) is currently looking for a psychiatrist to be the new Clinical and Strategic Director. The CCQI works with mental health services to improve the standard of care that people with mental health needs receive. The Centre runs 27 quality networks and accreditation programmes that work with over 1550 mental health services around the UK.
The networks develop service standards and help services to work towards meeting them. The CCQI also runs two national audits focusing on dementia and psychosis on behalf of NHS England and Improvement and the Welsh Government. The Clinical and Strategic Director is the clinical lead for this programme of work and this is an exciting opportunity if you are interested in improving services.
This month the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH) launched the Community Mental Health Framework for Adults and Older Adults full guidance documents.
These were commissioned by NHS England to support the delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan. They present the best available evidence and outline a new structure for providing integrated community-based mental health care. These new ways of working will help more people receive higher-quality care when and where they need it.
Pushing ahead with our Equality Action Plan
I was also invited to speak at the British Indian Psychiatric Association’s Spring conference this month to talk about my Presidential priorities. I chose to focus on our new Equality Action Plan which the College continues to press ahead with.
Initially, we plan to ensure that going forward annual consultations are carried out to understand the needs of members of all characteristics and backgrounds as well as the needs of staff. We will also be sharing resources on good practice for promoting equality on the College website. Do take the opportunity to look at what else we hope to accomplish within the first year.