The end to an eventful year
15 December, 2023
The last few years have been quite eventful and 2023 was no exception.
It’s actually quite difficult to put into words the amount we manage to achieve together as a College – from engaging with government ministers to influence policy, to launching bold campaigns getting employers to Act Against Racism in the workplace, and even publishing landmark reports on infant and early childhood mental health.
But as we come to the end of the year, it’s important we take the time to reflect on the things that really matter, which is why I want to take a moment to pay tribute to two very special women in psychiatry.
Dr Onikepe Ijete
This week we received the very sad news that Dr Onikepe Ijete, a dedicated Specialty Doctor in Forensic Psychiatry, friend and valued member of the College community, passed away unexpectedly.
Dr Ijete was particularly passionate about advocating for people with disabilities and used her own experiences to support change. She was a member of our Disability Group and only last Thursday, she spoke about disability as a strength during a webinar for International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
The impact of Onike’s work will live on in all those she helped and inspired. She was proud to be collaborating with the College and we will do our best to continue the exceptional work she started.
Everyone who was fortunate enough to work alongside Onike will sorely miss her. Our thoughts are with her family and friends during this extremely difficult time, including her daughter Ellie, who was also her best friend and carer.
Dr Fiona Subotsky
I would like to recognise another formidable woman in the field of psychiatry. Dr Fiona Subotsky, an eminent Child and Adolescent psychiatrist and Fellow of the College, celebrated her 80th birthday last week.
Dr Subotsky has held many impressive posts in medicine, at a time when it wasn’t so easy for women to hold leadership positions. These include Medical Director of the Maudsley Hospital in London and President of the Medical Women’s Federation and being a stalwart of the Worshipful Society of the Apothecaries, one of the oldest medical institutions in the country. However, I’m sure none of them were quite as enjoyable as the time she spent as the College’s Honorary Treasurer and first Honorary Archivist.
Anyone who has read her books will know she has a unique ability to write about history, gothic literature and the fascinating medical connections between the two.
Learning about women and mental health
The Women and Mental Health Special Interest Group (WMHSIG) held their annual conference last week. As members shared their knowledge and wisdom, developed throughout their careers, it was abundantly clear that we all still have a lot to learn from the matriarchs of our profession.
With that in mind, we have launched a new survey for all our members on women’s mental health. I would encourage everyone to fill it in by Friday 26 January 2024. We have made this issue a priority by appointing two new presidential leads, but it is very important that we are able to hear from you, our experts, as well.
DWP changes to work capability assessments
The College has been working behind the scenes this past month to influence government plans to reform the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) in order to protect those with mental illness. The Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) initial proposals would have seen many people with mental illness sanctioned without their condition having improved.
The College response to the consultation, ongoing lobbying and a subsequent private meeting provided us with the opportunity to explain why the first set of proposals were not fair or practical. Now the changes will only apply to new applicants and those who are affected will be better protected than if we had not intervened.
We were pleased to provide an expert advisory role to DWP. However, we still have significant concerns about the current proposals and welcome the opportunity for further constructive dialogue in the future.
Regulation of Physician Associates
Yesterday (Wednesday 13 December), the Government laid down new legislation to allow the General Medical Council to begin the process of regulating Physician Associates (PAs), who work as part of multidisciplinary teams (MDT) to support doctors. We have been calling for regulation for a long time as this will help standardise care and provide more confidence around patient safety.
Psychiatrists are responsible for leading the multidisciplinary teams in mental health trusts and consequently have a key role to play in ensuring these changes are effective. We will be reviewing the role and competences expected for Physician Associates working in psychiatry. We are already in discussions with the GMC regarding the scope of the Physician Associate role and fed into their consultation. We’ll continue to keep you updated as this and our own review progresses.
I was very happy to take part in the 60th Maudsley Debate last week at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN). The motion was '100 years is more than enough: This House believes that psychiatric hospitals should be consigned to the history books'.
Professor Sir Simon Wessely, past president of the College, chaired the debate and RCPsych Fellow, Professor Helen Killaspy, joined me in speaking against the motion and winning over the abstainers.
It was pretty clear there was overwhelming agreement that while community services need to be improved, there will always be situations where patients are so unwell they need to be admitted to hospital.
It was an exciting debate and I’d like to thank our opponents Professor Andrew Scull and Dr Andrew Molodynski (MRCPsych) who both put forward some strong arguments.
Excellence in mental health
For the second year in a row, the HSJ Awards 2023 have named a mental health trust as 'Trust of the Year', shining a light on their outstanding achievements. They beat hundreds of NHS acute, ambulance and specialist UK NHS trusts.
I’d like to congratulate Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust and their Chief Executive, Dr Ify Okocha, for this fantastic achievement. They’ve shown improving equity and boosting staff wellbeing leads to better outcomes for patients and clinicians alike. And a belated congratulations to North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust and their Chief Executive, Dr Buki Adeyemo, for winning last year. It was great to catch up with them in Staffordshire at their first face-to-face meeting for some time. We talked about the work they have done to support their staff to thrive. We could all learn a lot.
It’s clear mental health trusts are doing something right and this innovative work must be used to drive positive change across the board. I’d urge all trusts to investigate how they can support their staff and apply some of these measures to their own practices.
Diary of a psychiatrist
I wanted to share with you a recent article published in the i newspaper online written by a psychiatrist who described his work during a typical week in December in Diary of a psychiatrist. In his article, Dr Sanjeevan Somasunderam highlights the 300 referrals he received in a single month, I know this is reflective of the increasing levels of need we are all seeing across the country. Articles like this help improve the public's understanding of psychiatry and what we do.
Preserving the rich history of the College
And finally… I would like to give a very warm welcome to Gordon Bates who will be serving as our Historian in Residence from January 2024. He will be in post for the next five years and takes over from the fantastic Claire Hilton who has been appointed as our new Honorary Archivist, also for the next five years.
Before we even begin to think about the next year, it’s important we take time to rest and spend time with our loved ones. I know I’ll be enjoying some much-needed quality time with my family.
I wish you all a safe and peaceful end to the year and, as ever, the very best for your work and home life. I look forward to seeing you in 2024.
Question Time with the Officers
Each month, our President Dr Lade Smith CBE is joined by one or more of the College’s Officers to respond to questions and feedback from members and affiliates.
This is your opportunity to put forward suggestions about to how to improve things in mental healthcare, ask about some of the initiatives being undertaken and decisions being made, and learn more about the College and what it does.