What a week in Edinburgh
30 June, 2022
I was delighted to welcome so many of you to our International Congress in Edinburgh this month. We had 2,478 delegates registered, 17 keynotes, 75 sessions and 23 fringe sessions. It truly was a jam packed four days, a brilliant opportunity for networking and full of fantastic speakers.
I was particularly struck by all the international members who made the effort to travel to Edinburgh to spend time together in person, including a delegation from the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP). It was great to see all of you in Scotland!
There was a real sense of hope throughout Congress, and this was in part due to all the fantastic trainees and foundation doctors I met, including at a Meet the Officers Lunch and the Congress Party. It's brilliant that so many people are choosing a career in psychiatry.
There were some inspiring keynotes throughout the Congress, including from Dr David Williams, who outlined a global perspective on racism, and Professor Louis Appleby who spoke about suicide, the impact of COVID-19 and how priorities will need to change in response. It was also a real privilege to hear from campaigner and activist Ajibola Lewis. You can find out more about recordings of the sessions on our International Congress page.
In my own keynote speech, I drew attention to the cost-of-living crisis. I highlighted that much like with the pandemic, those already living with a mental illness are more likely to suffer the consequences of the looming economic downturn, which will be felt for years to come. We must be ready to offer them the specialist, high quality care we know can make a difference. But to do that, services need to be supported and I called for a cash boost of £300m to match inflation and deliver the investment package promised in the NHS Long Term Plan.
Our Annual General Meeting
The week began with our Annual General Meeting, where I put forward a set of proposals to ensure that we are inclusive and supportive of our SAS doctors and international associates. I am pleased to say that the large majority of members expressing a view (62%) voted in support of the changes to our rules to allow SAS doctors and international associates to vote in College elections. Thirty-eight per cent voted against.
When broken down between those in the room at Congress and those voting online, 88% of attendees at Congress voted in favour compared with 52% of the online members supporting the change.
Unfortunately, under our rules, we needed a two thirds majority to get the changes to our Supplemental Charter approved – which means my proposals cannot go forward. I am aware that many of those who voted against the proposals had significant concerns about some of the ideas tabled, such as the proposal we had already agreed to drop, on creating new post-nominals.
Despite the outcome, my feeling is that this is going to work out to be strangely unifying – with everyone now rallying round the need to cherish and value SAS doctors and international associates.
It’s my job, as President, to keep the RCPsych together and make sure we are a unified profession, moving forward as One College.
Please do take the time to read my full blog post about our 2022 AGM.
Dr Thomas Bewley CBE
I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Dr Thomas Bewley CBE, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists 1984-1987. He was much involved in the early years of the College, and made important contributions to the study of drug and alcohol dependence. His book Madness to Mental Illness: A History of the Royal College of Psychiatrists is a really crucial piece of writing that is still referred to today.
He was a truly remarkable person who will be greatly missed by all those who knew him. My sympathies are with his friends and family at this difficult time.
June is also Pride month and the College uses this time to commemorate and celebrate LGBTQ+ voices, activism and to show our support for LGBTQ+ rights. This is something that is truly close to my heart, and part of my presidential priority of championing equality, diversity and inclusion.
This month we have published a special ‘Pridecast’ podcast episode and several blog posts, including from Dr Pavan Joshi, Chair of our Rainbow SIG.
I am proud that the Royal College of Psychiatrists was awarded Silver in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality index due to our commitment to promoting LGBTQ+ equality across the organisation last year.
I encourage you all to take the time to read about all the College’s proactive activities in this area.
Suicide Prevention Roundtable event
Alongside the development of the cross-government mental health and wellbeing plan for England, the Department of Health and Social Care are refreshing their National Suicide Prevention Strategy.
To support the development of this plan, I was invited to a roundtable event with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid. This was an opportunity for me to highlight the College’s priorities around suicide and bereavement.
Following the Roundtable, the Secretary of State made a speech on suicide prevention, particularly suicides among men, and he spoke candidly about his brother Tariq who died by suicide.
He also spoke about the programmes of work that are already underway and his hopes for the new strategy. The College is currently developing its response to the consultation, and I look forward to seeing the full strategy when it is published.
College welcomes new anti-smoking proposals
Earlier this month the College welcomed the renewed focus on the link between smoking and poor mental health in the government’s new independent review on tobacco, led by Dr Javad Khan OBE.
The College agrees that work is needed to change the view that smoking can help people to relax or deal with stress and anxiety, when the reverse is true. Furthermore, it is unacceptable that people with mental health conditions die 10 to 20 years earlier, with the biggest preventable factor in this being smoking.
The review recommended that people are supported to quit smoking as part of the treatment available within acute and community mental health services and in primary care. I look forward to seeing how the proposals in the review are taken forward.
We must eliminate inappropriate out of area placements
The College has also been drawing attention to the dangerous practice of sending people with a mental illness hundreds of miles away from home for weeks at a time – inappropriate out of area placements.
While there had been a commitment to eliminate the practice by March 2021, we highlighted that in the year since that date, patients had spent a staggering 205,990 bed days on inappropriate out of area placements. 71% of placements that ended over that time, lasted for 15 or more nights, while 40% lasted for 31 or more nights.
This practice costs the NHS £102m per year. This is equivalent to the cost of the annual salary of over 900 consultant psychiatrists.
We are calling for the NHS to adopt a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to inappropriate out of area placements and to take urgent action to ensure all patients get the care they need from properly staffed, specialist services in their local area.
Thanks once again to all of you who play such an active role in College life. It was great to see so much of this in action during this year’s International Congress.