Of all the work that we do as a medical royal college, the analysis, planning and activity led by our Officers to support the paediatric workforce and to plan for what is needed to meet the future needs of children and young people is central to our purpose. As we head into another very difficult winter, perhaps the hardest in its history, the intensity of the workforce and service pressures has never been greater.
There are days when you feel that perhaps the ground may be shifting a little. Last Wednesday was one of them when the former Health Secretary for England, Jeremy Hunt, tabled an amendment to the Health and Care Bill that would require the UK Government to publish independently verified assessments of current and future workforce numbers every two years.
We supported the amendment, as did more than 60 health and care organisations and over 40 MPs from across the political spectrum. Rather than relying on local boards and organisations to produce their own plans, it was a solution that would have provided a basis for long-term decisions to be taken about funding, workforce planning and the mix of skills needed to help the system keep up with patient need. But sadly, it did not get passed; much of the focus lay on the social care proposals in the Bill.
Not to be defeated, the Health and Social Care Committee, chaired by Mr Hunt, is now going to hold its own inquiry, having heard repeatedly that more staff will be needed to meet future demand and deal with the backlog caused by the pandemic. As they put it: ‘Evidence has cited poor workforce planning, weak policy and fragmented responsibilities as contributing to a workforce crisis, exacerbated by the lack of a national NHS workforce strategy.’
The College will put in a submission to this inquiry, as we do regularly through our public affairs team on matters of importance and where we can pull in information from across our subspecialty groups and partners to strengthen the case.
Have your say on the new workforce census
I’m pleased to say that the College is due to launch its own workforce census imminently, and this will remain open for two months to capture paediatric workforce information via an individual response. The launch will include a dedicated microsite which is integrated into our membership database so that Paediatric Consultant and SAS doctors working in the UK will be directed to a form with 20 questions to complete about their workforce information such as place of work, contracted hours and retirement plans. We will of course be keeping the RCPCH website up to date with all relevant information when the survey goes live shortly.
I know we all despair of ‘survey-itis’ but we’ve redesigned it to be a quick and low-burden route for data collection so that we can report back quickly to you and on the findings: it takes around 10 minutes to complete. The data will give us a detailed and accurate picture of issues facing our members, help with planning and enable us to provide information about shortages to decision-makers and government to campaign for greater prioritisation of and investment in the child health workforce. The census really does make an impact. The 100% response rate in Scotland for the 2017 census allowed us to successfully argue for an increase in training places in 2019.
Taking part in College life
As it stands, the RCPCH has more than 20,500 members, and our membership increased by 3% last year despite the enormous challenges around training, examinations and assessment so we’re very heartened by this. The other trend we saw is a three-fold increase in members being able to participate in our activities because everyone switched to being remote. We know that just under 45% of all members actually participated in an event, whether it was our online international conference, or a training course, public affairs work or a committee. This number is far higher than anything achieved before, because it can be so much easier to join for an hour or two than spend time travelling to a meeting or course and having to take a day out of work. This is in itself is a challenge as we revert to more face-to-face meetings, which are really valued by many of you. My job is to find ways of enabling everyone, both in the UK and outside it, to participate in our work, but to restore also what’s been lost by the lack of in-person meetings and events. Our Conference next June will be a point where we can come together, in Liverpool. Watch this space for more details.
Our Trustees – goodbyes and hellos
Finally, I wanted to let you know that we welcome a new Chair of Trustees, Joanne Shaw, who has taken over from Dame Mary Marsh after five years of sterling service to the College. We also sadly say goodbye to two trustees, Gill Budd and Dr Carol Roberts, and offer a warm welcome to their successors, Simon Meredith and to Dr Tsitsi Chawatama. The work that the Board does in ensuring that the College has a bright future, is financially sustainable and most importantly, serves its mission cannot be overstated and I want to personally thank the Board and our Council for the support they’ve given me and the staff at the College over this extraordinary period.
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