A farewell to 2021
16 December, 2021
I’m writing this blog as the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, is spreading rapidly across the four nations in the UK and throughout the world. I know that services are already under immense pressure and are only able to function due to the hard work and dedication of you all.
This time last year, I was writing about the significant moment when the Pfizer vaccine reached the UK’s shores. It's undeniable that the Pfizer vaccine, and others like it, have saved many lives and have protected many of our most vulnerable from severe disease resulting from COVID-19. More than anything else, this has left us in a more hopeful position.
Despite this, we continue to have the challenge of uneven distribution of vaccines around the world, and we’re all now facing the uncertainties of the new variant. As we come face to face with another winter of tighter restrictions, I want to thank you all for your tireless efforts to support our patients at this difficult time. Please do look after yourselves and your colleagues this December and do remember that the College is here to support you.
I also wanted my final blog post this year to include how proud I am of all that has been accomplished by the College in 2021. Despite the continued challenge of COVID-19, I’m pleased we have managed to make real progress on my four presidential priorities; parity of esteem; equality, diversity and inclusion; workforce wellbeing and sustainability.
One of my highlights was the launch of our Equality Action Plan in January, which is helping to ensure the College works to become a proactive anti-discrimination organisation in perpetuity.
We also launched our Position Statement on the Climate and Ecological emergency in May and attended COP26 in Glasgow this November. These are important steps the College is taking to encourage urgent action to avert a health and mental health catastrophe.
I’m also immensely proud of all the work that’s gone into supporting mental health teams across the UK and abroad during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In Northern Ireland, the College has had a significant influence on the first 10-year mental health strategy which was published this year. Furthermore, after many years of campaigning by members and stakeholders, funding for Specialist Community Perinatal Services was finally announced.
In Scotland, the College has had incredible success with the No Wrong Door Campaign and have also achieved a fourth consecutive 100% fill rate to core psychiatry posts.
In Wales, we’ve seen significant outcomes from members driving national programmes during COVID-19, ranging from increasing dementia diagnosis, decreasing drug misuse deaths, as well as the rollout of video consultation.
All of you, our members, as well as our officers and staff, have made fantastic contributions to improve mental health services and the lives of patients. I wanted to thank all of you for your hard work and dedication.
Final meetings for the year
This month, I met with Amanda Pritchard, the new Chief Executive of NHS England, alongside Chief Executives of other leading charitable mental health organisations, to discuss how we can best work together to ensure mental health services are supported following the Comprehensive Spending Review. I look forward to continuing to work with her as we work to support the mental health of the nation during the ongoing pandemic.
The College also met with the new Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, who is heading up the recently launched Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. The new body will tackle the top preventable risk factors for poor health, including obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption.
However, we know that many of these public health risks disproportionately and negatively affect those with mental illness, intellectual disability and developmental disorders. That’s why it was great to have the opportunity to discuss with her our priorities for public mental health and look at ways we can work together going forward.
For the new year
As we leave 2021, there are several announcements coming from the sector that we’ll be engaging with in the new year.
Earlier this month the government set out its 10-year Drug Strategy which Dame Carol Black’s independent review helped shape. The strategy is backed by an additional £780m investment over three years, which will help to significantly expand access and strengthen drug treatment services, which have experienced years of cuts.
We know that chronic staff shortages and a disconnect between mental health and addiction services have resulted in many patients not getting the life-saving care they desperately need. It's encouraging to see that rebuilding the workforce and ensuring better integration of services are being prioritised within this strategy.
My sincerest hope is that this will deliver the much needed high-quality, comprehensive and humane addiction treatment.
We also recently had the news that Health Secretary Sajid Javid intends to merge the body responsible for education and training of the health workforce, Health Education England (HEE), with NHS England and Improvement. NHSX and NHS Digital will also merge into NHS England and Improvement. We hope this will be a positive move that will enable more alignment between finance, services and the workforce.
The College launched its Census 2021 this month detailing workforce figures for consultant psychiatrists, specialty doctor psychiatrists and Physician Associates in Mental Health. These figures make it clear how much work is left to be done and I look forward to seeing how we can work with the government, the NHS and HEE to help promote work around retention and recruitment in 2022.
Finally, I encourage you all to take the time to rest over the festive period, and as always, please do stay safe.