Summer, celebrations and looking ahead to September
28 July, 2022
I hope that this month and into the next, many of you will be taking a much-needed break from your clinical work, something that is especially important after what has been a uniquely challenging year.
However, despite the excitement of our summer holidays, many of you will have been alarmed by the weather we have been experiencing here in the UK. Earlier this month, Met Office data showed that we had our first ever day of temperatures over 40°C, with 40.3°C recorded in Lincolnshire. Although cooler weather has followed, these high temperatures are a reminder of the dramatic impacts of climate change.
As President, I have made sustainability one of my four priorities. We know that the disruption to life posed by climate and ecological emergencies presents an unprecedented threat to our health in the UK and worldwide. Many of our patients with serious mental illness experience worse physical and mental health on hotter days, polluted air has been linked to excess deaths and flood events with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We must play our part to ensure urgent action is taken to avert a health and mental health catastrophe, both in the UK and around the world.
RCPsych Summer Party
This month, following delays due to the pandemic, we belatedly celebrated the College’s 180th Anniversary and welcomed distinguished guests to 21 Prescot Street. It was a unique experience to reflect on some of the many changes the College has been through in its long history, from its beginnings as the Association of Medical Officers of Asylums and Hospitals for the Insane. Nevertheless, it is where we are today as a growing, international 20,000-member strong body that fills me with pride.
We welcomed Presidents from other Royal Colleges, including Dr Camilla Kingdon, President of the Royal College of Pediatrics' and Child Health, Professor Martin Marhsall, Chair of Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners and Dr Denise Chaffer, President of the Royal College of Nursing. Also in attendance was Professor Sir Steve Powis, National Medical Director for NHS England, someone I’ve worked closely with throughout the pandemic, as well as past-President of the College Baroness Sheila Hollins.
During the event, we heard from Hussain Manawer, poet and mental health campaigner, who has been working to reach young audiences about the importance of mental health. It was also inspiring to listen to Dr Pearl Hettiaratchy OBE, who is an Honorary Fellow and former Vice-President of RCPsych, a distinguished clinician whose NHS career spans more than 30 years.
I am pleased that following such a tough period for the health service, we still have a lot to celebrate.
Support for Sir Lanka
The College is deeply saddened by the situation in Sri Lanka. The country continues to face one of the severest economic crises globally, which has been compounded by significant political unrest. Acute shortages of fuel, food and essential medications, including the supply of essential psychotropic medicines, such as clozapine, risperidone, sodium valproate, etc., have pushed the cost of living to record highs.
The Sri Lanka Psychiatrists Association (SLCPsych) has been organising emergency shipments of medication for psychiatric services. The SLCPsych negotiated customs clearance with the Medical Supplies Division of the Ministry of Health to receive donations of medications registered with recognised regulatory bodies, such as USFDA, EMA, MHRA, TGA Australia or registered products of NMRA (National Medicines Regulatory Authority- Sri Lanka). The SLCPsych are working tirelessly to fundraise money for further medication shipments, and you can contribute to their efforts via their crowdfunding site.
NHS Race and Health Observatory Conference
I was honoured to be invited to chair a panel discussion at the NHS Race and Health Observatory International Conference on Informing anti-racist health policy: data, effective communication, implementation. It was a really great discussion with speakers from across different sectors, with a focus on how we can ensure sustainability and accountability in anti-racist health policy.
It was also good to meet with the College’s Honourary Fellow, Professor David Williams, at the event. There is no doubt that Professor Williams has enriched our understanding of the ways in which race, socioeconomic status, stress, racism, health behaviour and religious involvement can affect physical and mental health.
College EGM on 8 September
I’m pleased to confirm that, after the passionate debate that took place around our AGM in June, the RCPsych Council has decided to put the proposal to extend voting rights to College Affiliates – who are mostly SAS doctors – to an extraordinary general meeting on Thursday 8 September at Prescot Street, and other locations across the UK, between 6-9pm.
The debate last month, around whether to extend voting rights to Affiliates, caused a great deal of distress and I have been urged by a broad spectrum of College members to put the matter right by holding an early vote – so that we can do the right thing and ensure Affiliates are properly included as a part of the College family.
When I was elected as President, I said I would place equality, diversity and inclusion centre-stage and, in my view, extending voting rights to Affiliates is part of that agenda.
In hindsight, I believe we could have done better in engaging with College members in the lead up to last month’s AGM and better explained what people were being asked to vote on – and that is something we will improve upon this time round.
A special edition of RCPsych Insight has been sent out to members to explain exactly what is being proposed.
The Officers and I also had planned to hold two webinars to explain what we are suggesting, and to take questions - one webinar took place on 21 July and I was pleased to see so many engaged members come with their questions. We will hold another webinar on 2 August at 4pm please do join if you have any questions.
We will also hold an online consultation on the matter from late July until 15 August. The period for this consultation is constrained due to the need to analyse the feedback prior to 8 September, but I encourage all members to submit feedback to inform the debate.
Please do take the time to read my full blog post on our plans for the EGM.
Conservative Party leadership contest
In the UK, following the resignation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, we are currently in the throes of the Conservative Party leadership contest. We now know that either Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss will be our next Prime Minister come September.
Alongside other Medical Royal Colleges, we wrote a letter to the Editor of The Times urging our next Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party to make health and care a priority. The letter was published on Friday 22 July also outlines the need for proper workforce planning, a greater focus on preventing illness and tackling inequalities, and fixing the breakdown between NHS and social care.
I look forward to working collaboratively for whomever is elected as our next Prime Minister and representatives from within their chosen health team. I will continue to call for mental health services to be properly funded and a proper workforce plan to support them.