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

A scholar speaks: Dr Susan Howson

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 Susan Howson is one 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.


About Susan

Susan is an ST6 in child and adolescent psychiatry working in Devon Partnership NHS Trust.


She is attached to Lord McColl for a year. Lord McColl is a British surgeon, professor, politician and Conservative member of the House of Lords. McColl was made a life peer for his work for disabled people in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 1989.


Here are the highlights of what she’s done and learnt so far…


Joining the scheme

Being tucked away in rural Devon I can sometimes feel a little cut off, so I have always jumped at interesting opportunities to see the wider social and political context in which psychiatry operates.


When the College advertised Parliamentary Scholarships which would be supported to enable trainees to participate from outside London I was very keen, and was delighted to be accepted onto the scheme.


I was given Lord McColl of Dulwich, a general surgeon and Conservative politician, to work with.


Although I was nervous initially, all thoughts of professional or political stereotypes were very quickly banished (a different sort of #banthebash!) when I met him.


Getting to know Lord McColl and learning about his long career in medicine and public life has been really interesting. It was particularly memorable hearing about his experiences as a House Officer, working with people who had taken overdoses, when suicide attempts were illegal.


I am so glad we no longer have to contend with the police to assess someone’s mental health after the supposed ‘crime’ of attempting suicide.


Parliamentary involvement

So far, I’ve had a really varied, engaging experience, including watching or getting involved with debates, question times, select committee oral evidence and ministerial meetings.


It’s great to have the chance to brief on issues related to mental health in questions or debates, including a detailed discussion of the recent children and young people’s mental health green paper.


I’m due to view Prime Minister’s Question Time in person soon, and looking forward to seeing how it compares in reality to what we see on television.


It was really rewarding to work with Lord McColl on submitting written questions to the Government on a subject I care about greatly, the well-being of looked after and vulnerable children.


Another peer involved in the scheme raised the subject in the House and I was happy to be in a position to give Lord McColl a detailed briefing.


He's also currently steering a private member’s bill through Parliament, which has been a great opportunity to learn how legislation is formed.


Other experiences

Not everything I have been involved with has been directly to do with the processes of Government.


I have been able to give some support to a campaign raising awareness about issues associated with human trafficking and modern slavery, a cause which has long been very close to Lord McColl’s heart. It’s interesting to see how he approaches the issues he works with and the responses he gets.


I would strongly encourage trainees from across the UK to consider applying for this scheme. Participating from a distance has required planning and organisation (and kind support from my school and TPD) but it is certainly manageable.


I think my experience has been a little different to London trainees, but it has been a great opportunity to see and learn things that I can also take back and share with my colleagues.


Thank you particularly to Olivia Clark from the College for help in making this possible.


More from the Parliamentary scholars

Each Parliamentary scholar is writing a blog for the eNewsletter.

If you enjoyed hearing about Susan's experiences, you can catch up with the others in forthcoming eNewsletters.



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