COVID-19 - message from the President, 26 June

We're now starting to look forward- as we make the case for children and young people should we experience a second wave of COVID-19 this winter, and reimagine the future of child health services, as outlined in our first Paediatrics 2040 report.

This week felt like the first week for a while where we were starting to look ahead rather than react in the moment. It’s reassuring that the pace of change is low enough for us to have space to think ahead. However, winter is coming – as is a great backlog in and pent-up demand for services for children and young people.

On Tuesday we published a call for a cross-party rapid review into the experiences of children and young people during the first phase of the pandemic. This is vital as we restore some normality to young lives. It’s also essential that we make the case for what may not need to happen, based on the evidence, should we experience a second wave in the winter.

The evidence as it stands suggests that we should keep children in schools, especially given the amount of energy that will be consumed by a return in September. Similarly, our evidence, officially adopted this week, suggests that most children don’t need to shield. I’m also of the view that in future pandemic waves we must not stand down the protective services around our children, as was partly done in the first wave. We also shouldn’t repeat the transfer of community paediatricians to acute services. We will need community paediatrics even more than usual as we face winter pressures and a likely increase in demand. 

Today we’ve also published the first instalment in the Paediatrics 2040 project, which is designed to imagine and influence what our specialty should look like in the future. Clearly, the pandemic radically altered the focus of this work – and that’s reflected in the report. Many of you contributed to the findings. There are too many strands to mention but I think the ‘innovation during COVID-19’ section is fascinating and important. Here’s a quote that stood out for me about the impact of cultural change:

In my department, having been told tele clinics could never happen, people could never work from home, and department teaching, and meetings couldn’t be done remotely, we are now doing all those things - almost overnight.

There are lots of these examples in the report. Personally, what I find most interesting is the idea that things happened, sometimes in 24 hours, that were previously dismissed as impossible or unworkable. It is this sort of ‘why not’ and ‘let’s try it’ mindset that we should preserve. Here’s another one about small things that make a difficult day less complicated:

I’d like to preserve the little things that make a difference to our day – like not having to worry about where to park your car, or whether there will be something available to eat if you are working late.

These are not radical changes, precisely because we have done them and they’ve (mostly) worked. Paediatrics 2040 was intended to present ideas and a vision for change. It will still do that – but it will also draw heavily from this period in which so many things that were previously thought of as ‘wishful thinking’ became real - quickly, and with institutional support. If you’re interested, please do join a live Q&A on 1 July.

Some good news to close us out. This week we announced the winners of our exam prizes, the Jisma Joseph and Lal Bagh award which recognise the hard work and dedication that goes into the MRCPCH clinical examinations. It is important to celebrate the achievements of the College’s members. Nominations are now open for Honorary Fellowship and the highest honour awarded by the College, the James Spence Medal – which recognise outstanding contributions to the advancement of knowledge and understanding in paediatrics and child health.

Finally, a note to say that over the summer months I’ll be writing fortnightly rather than weekly. You will also hear from some of our Vice Presidents as I enjoy the (hopefully) sunny pleasures of a UK seaside holiday. Have a nice weekend.


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