I had an unfortunate start to my week… it was a familiar paediatric story involving a small baby and a bad bout of diarrhoea just as I opened his nappy to feel his femoral pulses. Just as well we all wear scrubs on my neonatal unit! There I was, standing in the middle of the ward, well and truly drenched and not exactly in a position to start hunting down clean scrubs and rinsing out the filthy ones. From nowhere, our wonderful healthcare assistant appeared and came to my rescue. I felt ridiculously grateful when she took my dirty scrubs away and found me some clean ones. Her actions reminded me again how every single member of our clinical team plays a crucial role and how important it is to recognise and appreciate our ancillary staff. There are lots of unsung heroes in the NHS but my experience this week reminded me how small acts of kindness matter and it is important to notice and thank colleagues who go out of their way to help.
Children must be a priority
This has felt like a tough week for the wider child health agenda in the UK with very significant focus now on the needs of the frail elderly, for very understandable reasons, but seemingly at the expense of children. The news that the Health Disparities White Paper has been shelved felt like a bitter blow, especially in the depths of a cold winter when we are all so acutely aware of ever-widening health inequalities and the impact on children. In its place is a Major Conditions Strategy which seems much more focused on treatment than prevention. As paediatricians, we know that chronic respiratory disease, mental illness and cardiovascular disease all have origins in childhood, and therefore the case has already been made that investing in healthy childhood is the right thing to do.
My sense is that we cannot let these announcements diminish our resolve to continue to highlight these issues and use our advocacy skills and the stories of our patients to make the case for addressing child health. I am encouraged that the Health and Social Care Committee – a group of MPs responsible for scrutinising the work of the Department for Health and Social Care – has launched a call for proposals ahead of its inquiry on prevention in health and social care. We have an opportunity to make our case and will be submitting a proposal that urges the Committee to focus on children and young people and health inequalities. Do let us know if you have ideas for what should be included in our proposal via email@example.com.
Advocating for refugee and migrant children
Like many of you, I am increasingly concerned about the state of services caring for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Over the past few months we have heard stories about diphtheria outbreaks in detention centres, migrant children being ‘dispersed’ around the country and then most recently more than 200 children being lost or unaccounted for. The Refugee Council have this week published a worrying analysis of the current migrant situation in the UK and they estimate that 8,692 children crossed the English Channel in 2022. This is clearly a significant problem and we continue to remind UK Government of their responsibility to protect the rights of these children.
Celebrating unsung heroes
As a College we owe gratitude to so many of our members who undertake important roles and responsibilities on our behalf. This week I especially want to make mention of our international exams teams, especially the extra efforts of our host partners in Egypt, UAE, Jeddah and Malaysia. The examiners in these countries have gone above and beyond by adding extra days to their clinical hosting for the MRCPCH exams to try and reduce our backlog of overseas candidates in those countries. This has been a significant amount of additional work and has been done simply to benefit candidates who would have been waiting much longer otherwise. I would particularly like to record our thanks to Dr Abla Al Alfy and her team in Cairo, Dr Abdulmoein Al-Agha and colleagues in Jeddah, Prof Yousef Abdulrazzaq and team in UAE, and Dr Swee Ping Tang and colleagues in Malaysia. A massive thank you to you all.
Our paediatric sub-specialties are a prized and important part of our workforce and at the College we highly value all our specialty groups and societies. Both the nephrologists and neurologists held their annual meetings last week and Steve Turner, RCPCH Registrar, went to Leeds to join the nephrologists, and I had the pleasure of a trip to Edinburgh to spend time with the British Paediatric Neurology Association at their conference. I received the warmest reception and was left with a deep sense of how much we have to be proud of in the outstanding quality of both clinical work and research amongst British paediatric neurologists.
Patient voice was woven through many of the presentations and we heard from the mother of a child with Angelman Syndrome describing what ‘parent power’ can achieve in raising huge sums of money and supporting ground-breaking research. If you are intrigued, read more on the Cure Angelman website. One final impression from Edinburgh was how bright the future is for medicine. An academic foundation doctor, Dr Sophie Adler, winner of the Ronnie MacKeith prize, gave an outstanding lecture on the use of artificial intelligence in interpreting MRI scans in children with complex epilepsy, all while her husband jogged their five month old baby on his knee. Wow!
Finally, we are reviewing how the College can support paediatricians to improve patient safety in their workplaces. We are keen to hear your views on how we can best support members to increase their knowledge of patient safety theory, to access valuable safety recommendations and to drive improvements in patient safety. This is such a crucial topic so please help us by completing our survey (this should take approximately five minutes and consists of six questions).
With my best wishes to you all – and take care.
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