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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

RCPsych Parliamentary Scholarship Blog: Dr Kathleen McCurdy

About Kathleen

Kathleen is an ST6 trainee in forensic psychiatry at Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust. She is working with Baroness Watkins of Tavistock, a Cross-bench Peer and Visiting Professor of Nursing at King’s College London, who is interested in the topics of education, nursing, mental health, social enterprises and housing.


What is the RCPsych Parliamentary Scholars Scheme

Since 2012, Baroness Hollins, ex-President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and a Professor of Learning Disabilities Psychiatry, has taken on a Learning Disabilities trainee for a special interest session to work with her as a parliamentary researcher in the House of Lords.

This is the first year the scheme has been opened to trainees in all psychiatric sub-specialities.

Dr Jen Perry and Dr Kathleen McCurdy are two of the five speciality trainees who spend one day a week treading the floors of Westminster. Each of them is attached to a different peer from across the political spectrum; Conservative, Labour and Cross-Bench.


What I actually do

On a typical day I’ll arrive at Westminster in the morning and attend a scheduled meeting, Select Committee or All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). 

The APPG on Mental Health is held a number of times a year and I recently attended the Select Committee on Child and Adolescent Mental Health, but I often use these sorts of opportunity to broaden my horizons and listen to experts discuss the experiences and advice around topics that I don’t know much about.

There is so much that interfaces with mental health; a recent Science and Technology committee spoke about Life Sciences ‘Catapult’ businesses and how to integrate new research and products into the NHS, the APPG on Health held a session on old age and frailty and I’ve attended a conference on Social Care.  

Occasionally I have been fortunate enough to wander to “the other place” (a euphemistic term for the House of Commons) to observe, which was a particularly lively experience during the recent Budget debate.

After lunch, I might accompany Baroness Watkins to meetings, do some research in the library on upcoming questions and debates or even draft a speech.

The House of Lords sits mid-afternoon and begins with questions, during which Peers hold government representatives to account on their policies and current practice. Unsurprisingly mental health is a common topic to come up in both written and oral questions. Following this there is usually some in-depth legislative scrutiny and then a debate; a recent topic was on Mental Health in Black and Minority Ethnic Groups.


Your work, debated by Peers

It’s quite an experience sitting in the galleries and listening to something you’ve helped research or write being debated by the Peers.

The House often sits late into the evening and there are also sometimes lobbying events by charities and other interesting groups to attend. My schedule tends to be quite flexible and I sometimes come in on different days if there is something important I wish to see or do.

We do have some contact with RCPsych. Our monthly meetings are a great opportunity to be updated on the College’s agenda, to catch-up with the other scholars and to plan to work together to influence policy on specific topics such as the Mental Health Act review or the CAMHS Green Paper.

As a forensic psychiatry trainee I’m also interested in the Justice Committee enquiry into the prison population and planning for the future and how this relates to mental health.


An exciting time!

Although I’m relatively early in my year-long placement, I’m beginning to get some understanding of the complexities of the political world and the ways in which policy is developed.

I think that sometimes as a junior doctor there is a feeling of disillusionment and that we can’t change anything, but certainly this experience is showing me that by engaging in politics and empowering ourselves we can bring about positive change for our patients and ourselves as a workforce.

It’s such an exciting time to be at Westminster and I look forward to the opportunities and challenges that 2018 brings.



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