A month of learning, reflection and change
30 June, 2021
For the College, June has been a month of learning, reflection and change.
At our first-ever virtual International Congress, it became clear that COVID-19 continues to have profound and devastating consequences for mental and physical health throughout the world. In the UK we continue to take a cautious approach in light of the emergence and rapid spread of the delta variant. My thoughts continue to be with those most affected.
However, Congress was also an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the College this last year and a time to look forward to what the next will bring.
We’ve celebrated Pride and shown continued solidarity with a community that is still facing inequalities and discrimination in many aspects of life, including in health care.
We’ve also said goodbye to some of the College’s outgoing officers and welcomed the new incoming Treasurer and Dean.
International Congress 2021
Although this year’s International Congress was different to usual, it was still jam-packed full of contributions from world-class academics and clinicians, those with lived experience and their families, and opinion leaders from the social and political sphere. I believe the online platform really brought the events to life.
Although so many of us around the world continue to fight the ongoing pandemic, I am so pleased we had the opportunity to come together.
It was a privilege to deliver my opening address to all of you. I hope I managed to convey the challenges we’ve faced, some of our achievements, and how we can look to the future.
I updated you all on the progress of my presidential priorities one year into my term as your President. These are parity of esteem between mental and physical health, equality and diversity, supporting the workforce and ensuring sustainability is at the heart of everything that we do. Despite the obstacles we have all faced, we’ve already made much progress, and I’m more determined than ever to fight for this ambitious set of priorities.
Importantly, I highlighted my concern that the government is reneging on its promise to safeguard 0.7% of its budget for foreign aid. More than three-quarters of people with a mental disorder don’t receive treatment in low-income countries, so it’s desperately disappointing that because of aid cuts we will no longer be able to train 78,000 mental health workers in parts of Asia and Africa. We’ve fought so long for parity between mental and physical health in the UK and that fight doesn’t end on our doorstep. We are urging the government to reconsider.
I also launched our new campaign to ensure that mental health is not left behind in the upcoming NHS reforms. As many of you will know, for too long, mental health has struggled to be heard at the top table in NHS decision making. This has left many patients with a mental illness unable to access the care they need. We need your help to ensure that new legislation being debated in Parliament does not overlook the needs of people with mental illness. I’m calling on all of you in the UK to contact your MP to argue the case for parity of esteem for mental health.
My personal highlights
It was great to be involved in so many other events at Congress. Notably, the lounge event with my presidential leads for Race Equality, Dr Lade Smith and Dr Raj Mohan, where we spoke about ethnicity and mental illness. I highlighted the journey I’ve been on this year, including my participation in the work of the NHS Race and Health Observatory. It was great to discuss the College’s progress on our Equality Action Plan and our hopes for the College becoming a more proactive anti-discrimination organisation in perpetuity.
It was a privilege to interview Fiona Godlee, the Editor-in-chief at the BMJ during our In Conversation with... event. Fiona had some incredible insights on the lessons learned from COVID-19 and emphasised the importance of the mental health research community making the case for funding as we emerge from the pandemic. She was clear that proper prevention in the community, including clean air and water, green spaces and changing the way we educate our children, is vital to rebuilding.
I was honoured to introduce Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England - someone who has truly been at the centre of the UK’s response - who gave an insightful talk on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health. He highlighted that the expertise of psychiatrists will be essential to ensuring we minimise the negative impact in the long run.
The Congress is truly international, and it was great to speak with so many psychiatrists from around the world at our various roundtable events, including our South Asian, African and Pan-American roundtables. Listening to these international roundtables was humbling and at times distressing. We can learn a lot from each other’s experiences of the last year and I’m glad we had the opportunity to discuss the challenges we’ve all faced.
Vitally, I believe International Congress was an important opportunity to see a clearer picture of the mental health impact of the pandemic and the challenges that all of us will be facing for the years to come.
Changing of the guard
International Congress is also the time for our Annual General Meeting (AGM) where we bid farewell to our outgoing officers, office and post-holders, including Dean Dr Kate Lovett and Treasurer Dr Jan Falkowski.
Kate has been the true pioneer of the Choose Psychiatry campaign. The success of this campaign is unmatched. When it was launched, three out of ten core psychiatric trainee places weren’t filled and now, under her leadership, the campaign has helped secure a 100% fill rate for the first time on record.
Jan helped steady the financial ship through one of the College's most difficult periods and we’re so grateful to him that we’re coming out the other side.
I’m also very pleased that we are welcoming several other people into key positions, including our new Dean, Professor Subodh Dave and our new Treasurer Professor John Crichton, following your choosing them in January’s elections.
During my opening address to Congress, I had the College’s Pride banner displayed behind me. For the last few years, the College, along with our members and staff, have celebrated Pride to show continued solidarity with a community that is still facing multiple inequalities and discrimination. I am pleased that we are now implementing our Equality Action Plan which includes actions that will help us address some of the stark inequalities that LGBTQ+ people face when it comes to mental health.
I also published a blog post on our website this month that highlighted the important work of our members, including the Rainbow Special Interest Group, who support and advocate for LGBTQ+ mental health professionals and patients. In addition, our Sexual and Gender Equality and Inclusion Forum help to improve the experience of being an LGBTQ+ employee or visitor of the College.
RCPsych Leadership and Management Fellow Scheme
Finally, I would like to highlight how pleased I am that nominations for the Leadership and Management Fellow Scheme 2021/22 are open. This important programme provides a unique opportunity to support the formation of a national network of emerging leaders, through a leadership development programme and a local apprenticeship model.
With the support of their local organisation, the scheme is open to all higher specialist trainees in any psychiatric sub-specialty, and occurs in-programme, utilising special interest time over a 12-month period. The deadline for nomination forms is 5 July.