A very busy month – conflict in the Middle East
26 October, 2023
It has been shocking to see the appalling situation unfolding in the Middle East.
It is true horror and frankly, like many people, I do not have adequate words to express my feelings. However, I know that we all have views about it and that some of us may be directly or indirectly affected.
As a College, we offer everyone affected by the conflict our unequivocal support. Our thoughts and sympathies are with each person suffering, particularly those who have been displaced or lost loved ones.
Armed conflict can have a significant impact on the mental health of people on the ground and beyond. Our primary focus in these upcoming weeks is to provide support to colleagues and caregivers working on the front lines of relief efforts, so they can incorporate essential mental healthcare as well as physical care for their patients. The College has built up a body of knowledge from the response it has provided to a number of international emergencies and there are several resources available on our website.
These include translations of patient resources, guidance and eLearning modules on the mental health response for complex humanitarian emergencies, and signposting to a number of other relevant resources. We have made these available to those who might need them, and ask you to share them where you see fit. We are also currently in the process of planning Psychological First Aid courses for a team assisting with those who have been affected.
For our Members and Affiliates who may be experiencing personal difficulties, know that my thoughts are with you. Remember that you can use our Psychiatrists' Support Service (PSS) which provides free, rapid, high-quality peer support by telephone to psychiatrists of all grades.
Landmark report on early childhood mental health published
This week we have published our report CR238: Infant and early childhood mental health: the case for action. This is a first for the College and we have already received many extremely positive responses.
The period from before conception through to five years is an essential time in securing the healthy development of children. Without the right care and support children are at risk of lifelong mental illness.
We all have a critical role to play in developing a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development. The report makes nine recommendations to bridge the current treatment and prevention gap and calls on Government to introduce new specialist services and ensure every family has access to the support they need, regardless of where they live.
Thank you to all the members of the working group for pushing this extremely important issue forward and to Trudi, our Registrar, for spearheading this project.
Engaging with our Members and Affiliates
Engaging in a better way with our Members and Affiliates continues to be one of my focuses as President of the College. We held our second Question Time earlier this month on Friday 12 October, which you can watch at your own convenience (login required), and I was joined by the College Registrar, Dr Trudi Seneviratne OBE, and Treasurer, Professor John Crichton. Thank you to everyone who participated.
We covered topics from the AGM, to the BJPsych and even pensions. I hope even more of you are able to attend the next Question Time, which is scheduled for Friday 24 November at 11am. I encourage you to submit any questions, concerns or ideas you have in advance.
It’s been a real privilege to hear from so many of you over the past three months. I have heard your concerns and thank you for your great ideas. It has been invaluable to be able to engage with our membership, and we will continue to develop and improve the different ways we do this.
We also held the College’s Strategy Day on 12 October. It was attended by almost 70 people from across all parts of the College, which was a first. It was fantastic to meet the Devolved Nation Chairs, Faculty and Division Chairs, patient and carer reps, Associate Deans and Registrars, staff Senior Management Team and Presidential leads, face-to-face. We discussed our strategic aims guided by the recommendations of the Presidential Leads and by your views, represented through the Faculties and Divisions. We are using these conversations to develop the College’s Strategic Plan. There is still time to influence the report by contacting the Vice Presidents, Faculty and Division Chairs, and patient and carer reps.
Keep a look out for the opportunity to join our new twice-yearly debates where Members and Affiliates will get the chance to discuss key issues affecting psychiatrists. I have also set up a number of listening exercises with groups of our membership who have particularly felt unheard. I really want to have the space to reflect on how we can do better.
Beyond all of this, please know that my door is always open (email will do). I am your President and am always willing to listen to what you have to say and improve things for you.
Influencing at the party conferences
Over the last month, I’ve been attending the main party political conferences in England. Each conference – the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and the Labour Party – provided an opportunity to talk to senior politicians, experts and like-minded campaigners about some of the key issues facing mental health services.
I feel confident that we made great strides in raising the profile of psychiatry and mental health in the various conversations, events and roundtables with peers, MPs and stakeholders. Our engagement with Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, ensured mental health was on the agenda at all the Fringe events he attended thereafter. I was delighted that Sir Keir Starmer and Wes Streeting prioritised mental health in their speeches, as did Sir Ed Davey.
It was particularly pleasing that the newly appointed Shadow Minister for Women’s Health and Mental Health, Abena Oppong-Asare MP mentioned the College at a parliamentary address after our meeting. I will continue to engage with policy and decision-makers to ensure that the College’s voice is heard at the highest level and that mental health is always on the agenda.
You can read more about my views on the party conferences in a separate blog post which goes into more detail.
Working with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges
This month has involved lots of working with my peers in the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. The RCPsych took responsibility, working with the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, for writing a report outlining the concerning decline in academic medicine, with a focus on academic psychiatry.
The bottom line is that there is a desperate need to reverse the decline in the numbers of academics. We must champion research as we know that it enhances clinical care and improves outcomes. We want to support the development of academic research hubs across the country to ensure wherever you are in the UK you will be able to access good basic research training to support your clinical work and you will be able to develop your research career if you wish to pursue academic psychiatry.
This week I joined a roundtable with my fellow Medical Royal College Presidents, hosted by Steve Barclay MP, to discuss Winter planning; implementation of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan and AI and technology. It was a chance to highlight the needs of the psychiatric workforce and how best to address them. I shared the insight and experience that we have as a College. I also talked about our chronic workforce and resource issues and the fact that despite this we have treated more patients than ever before, but it has come at a cost.
We offered our support to the implementation and I pointed out that there was a need to ensure medical schools exposed students to good psychiatry placements; that addictions psychiatry needed to be better supported; that we need more specialist psychiatry training places throughout the country; that there is an imperative to support research training and that the diverse needs and wellbeing of the modern workforce was no longer a “nice thing to do”, but a “must do” to support retention.
Steve Barclay recognised the importance of prioritising mental healthcare.
Celebrating our members old and new!
When terrible things are happening, it is important to remember to celebrate the good, no matter how frequent or how rare. It was a joy to officiate my first two new Members’ ceremonies this month in my role as President. I was delighted to welcome 159 of our newest members to the College. To qualify as a psychiatrist is no mean feat, and I have no doubt that the patience and passion that they have demonstrated to get this far will continue to drive them on their journeys as psychiatrists.
I also wanted to take this opportunity to mark the amazing achievements of the four Honorary Fellows:
- Dr Ananta Dave, Chief Medical Officer Psychiatrist of the Black Country Integrated Care Board. A child and adolescent psychiatrist, first and foremost. She is now Presidential Lead for Wellbeing and Retention, a perfect role for someone who an incredible role model and a truly wise soul. She provides excellent counsel, strategic vision and wonderful poetry in her spare time.
- Professor Mohammed Al-Uzri, specialises in SMI and cognition, and is Associate Medical Director at the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. Sought out by junior and senior colleagues alike, his thoughts and advice to the College have been invaluable to past Presidents and especially now to me. I look forward to Mohammed developing our international work and presence as part of his role as Presidential Lead for Global Mental Health Strategy.
- Professor Henrietta (Etta) Bowden-Jones is a researcher and Consultant Psychiatrist in addictions, with specialist expertise in gambling disorder and gaming disorder, She is an expert advisor to Westminster and Director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, which she founded in 2008. There are now 15 clinics in the UK. She was awarded an OBE in 2019 for services to addiction treatment and to research. Etta’s love of the arts undoubtedly gives her a wider perspective on the human condition. Her compassion and humanity sets her apart.
- Robin Swann was Northern Ireland's Minister of Health from January 2020 to October 2022 and presided over the response of the Northern Ireland Executive to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has championed mental healthcare and worked closely with Northern Irish psychiatrists to address the enormous treatment gap that exists in NI, worse than anywhere else in the UK. His collaborations with RCPsych in Northern Ireland have been impactful in raising the importance of mental healthcare to the health of Northern Irish people.
I am immensely grateful for the work that they do and congratulate them on their well-earned recognition as leading figures in psychiatry and mental health.
This week we have launched our Choose Psychiatry 2023 campaign, with brilliant backing from Stephen Fry and Alastair Campbell sharing how Psychiatry helped them both.
Please take the time to promote the campaign across your networks. We must do everything we can to encourage more people to #ChoosePsychiatry. Stephen Fry shared an excellent video about how psychiatry helped save his life. Interestingly, he points out that psychiatry is the pinnacle of medicine. I couldn’t agree more!
Wishing you all the best for your work and home life,