Rob Okunnu, Interim CEO, sat down with President Dr Camilla Kingdon to consider what has changed in the last year and the amazing work still yet to be done.
This time last year we launched our College Strategy 2021-24 as the UK was slowly working towards a new normal after lockdown. There were many seasonal and workforce pressures impacting the communities we serve that required our response and support. Thinking about that period, how did having a strategy make it even more important and necessary for the College?
Dr Camilla Kingdon
It feels like the pandemic has led to a lot of shifting of tectonic plates with a whole new raft of problems and issues. The world is slowly needing to find its ‘new normal’ and that means we are living in quite uncertain times. I like to think this brings huge opportunity too – so it isn’t all bad! However, there is a risk for organisations like the College that we take on lots of new streams of work and lose sight of our core mission. The strategy feels like a set of guide rails for us. As we get requests for new work, we use the strategy to work out if this is important or not. So, the strategy has been enormously helpful, particularly in the last year and I am sure will remain so.
Our four strategic aims cover a multi-disciplinary cross section of the college that covers education, digital innovation, global and more. You mentioned in last year’s launch podcast that one may run the risk of over-prioritising and embracing too many new ideas. However, the strategy as written seems to work really well to not only encourage new ideas, but also provide a check on business-as-usual projects. In the past year, have the four strategic aims become even more clear and are there any particular areas that are exciting or interesting?
The child health workforce is front and central in the strategy and underpins all our work currently. So this has certainly become far clearer and helped us determine a plan to develop our Workforce Team further at the College, align the team with the Education and Training Division and allocate more resources. With a global shortage of healthcare workers, I am fairly confident that every single Medical Royal College will have its workforce front and central – and we are no exception. Alongside this, I am really excited by the acceleration in our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion work, our Climate Change programme and our recent launch of our Health Inequalities Toolkit. These three workstreams have a great deal of overlap and I am really intrigued to see how we are going to align the work and give greater focus to the impact on children globally.
Our membership has increased as well as our staff. How important has the strategy been to membership and staff recruitment/retention?
It’s great news that our membership continues to grow because that means we are developing resources that meet clinicians’ needs and hopefully means that people view us a College that can make a difference. Our staff team are a phenomenally talented and hardworking group and the more I work with the various teams, the more I realise how lucky we are! Having said all that, we cannot take any of this for granted. Retention is extremely important and for those of us in leadership positions we need to go the extra mile to understand what works well and what doesn’t and role model kindness and compassion. I think the pandemic has led to massive changes in attitudes to work and work-life balance and we must learn to be responsive to these changes – otherwise paediatrics and the College just simply won’t continue to attract the very best.
We launched just before COP26 and now see COP27 occurring from this weekend. Sustainability and climate change are now embedded throughout the College and impact on all four areas of the strategy. Can you touch on a couple things at a staff level and member level that the strategy has helped bring to light?
I must confess that this area of work is one that I am especially proud of! Learning that we had been ranked the top-scoring Royal College for our climate change work recently, was a very special moment! There is so much great work happening in this area that it is hard to pick just a couple. On the staff side, the genuine focus on creating as sustainable an Annual Conference as possible earlier this year, was a huge achievement. I know how much extra work it created but it was such an important opportunity to show how far we are prepared to change and embed sustainability in our work. On the member side, we have had some really excellent work around the issue of air pollution. This is a topic that I think we can genuinely speak up as paediatricians and I am so pleased with how much leadership we are showing as a College in this area. There is always more to do though – so no resting on laurels, sadly!
Finally, I’d like to look to the future. 2022 is ending with as many challenges as it began such as workforce, concerns around seasonal illness, and now the cost-of-living crisis. Our strategy speaks strongly about supporting members—either through wellbeing or training—and the continued advocacy work to make changes at the policy level. What upcoming challenges do you see in 2023 that the strategy is poised to tackle?
I very much agree with your summary. There are a bewildering number of emerging concerns and the political landscape is shifting too. It has never been more important to speak confidently and authentically about the rights of children and flag up the increasing number of issues that exist – poor vaccine uptake, access to free school meals, mental health concerns and so much more. Equally, our workforce is facing so many challenges. We are vastly under resourced in terms of children’s doctors, nurses and therapists across all settings.
Additionally, the lived experience of paediatricians is very poor in many places – either because there are many rota gaps or because the culture in the workplace is unhealthy and not conducive to thriving. Our strategy places all these issues front and central and so 2023 will see us acting with renewed energy to address these problems.