A merry final message of 2023 - President’s blog

As the year draws to a close, Camilla welcomes our new President-elect and pays tribute to all the candidates who stood in the President election. She also reflects on the COP28 conference and highlights the great work of the 17 CYP Climate Changers, who contributed to the College's recent parliamentary roundtable. There is also a global health good news story and the introduction of a new clinical practice guideline.
Dr Camilla Kingdon, RCPCH President

I can’t think of a merrier way to begin my final message of 2023, than to congratulate and welcome my successor, Professor Steve Turner. We had five fantastic candidates for RCPCH President, and I am thrilled to share the news that Steve will be our next President. It was our first election that was an entirely paperless process, in line with our sustainability goals, and our first election that included all our international members, so this has been an important process for the whole College.

I want to pay tribute to Jonathan Darling, Jan Dudley, Mike McKean and Simon Clark who all stood too. It’s a daunting process standing in an election and so no small undertaking. But what a truly healthy sign when despite all the work pressures, we were able to have five such terrific paediatricians put themselves forwards for this leadership role. My heartfelt thanks to them all. I will be handing over to Steve at RCPCH Conference 2024 in Birmingham on 26 March.

RCPCH and climate change

As the COP28 conference draws to a close, many feel deflated by the lack of bravery around commitment to phasing out fossil fuels. However, let’s not forget that this is the first time any specific mention of reducing fossil fuels use has been in a COP agreement, and this COP was the first one to hold a Health Day. The significance of this is the clear recognition that climate change is an important health issue.  

We have recognised this at the College for several years and I couldn’t be prouder of our climate change work. Just this week we convened a parliamentary roundtable on the unequal impacts of climate change. On Tuesday we held a breakfast meeting of MPs and peers in the House of Commons, along with a whole range of experts and allied charities and think tanks. With the Officer for Climate Change, Helena Clements, we heard presentations on the intersection of climate change and health inequalities from frontline clinicians Helen Stewart, our Officer for Health Improvement, and Katie Knight, lead of the Climate Change Advocacy group.

We also heard an impassioned plea from Rosamund Kissi-Debrah who made the strong case for why paediatricians need to advocate for children impacted by climate change and reminding us that children in our most deprived communities bear a disproportionate health burden from air pollution and climate change.

As with all College activities, RCPCH &Us played a central role. The Climate Changers group of 17 young people had recorded video messages and questions for the discussion and their efforts hugely helped in focussing the conversation and challenging all of us adults to agree how we can play a part. Their parting message to us all was to ‘have hope’ that together we can make a difference.

Prescribing safety

I know I’m not the only paediatrician who lives in fear of making a prescribing error. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve come very close to making an error – or perhaps we’ve made an error which has been noticed by a nurse or pharmacist before any harm has happened.

Safe prescribing is a crucial patient safety area for very well recognised reasons in paediatrics. Our patients can vary from small preterm babies to adolescents. We are often prescribing unlicensed medicines and dealing with varying strengths of liquid formulations. Rarely, a prescribing error causes real harm and we are committed to sharing the learning from this.

In response to the case of an unintentional repeated tenfold overdose of dalteparin, we have developed a new clinical practice guideline which is designed to be used on a paediatric ward round with the intention of improving medication safety.  I think this is a very important new resource and I hope you will incorporate it into your clinical practice.

Pharmaceutical industry placement

On an allied theme, I am really thrilled to let you know that the College has formed a partnership with Vertex, a global biotech company. The Vertex Physicians in Pharma Programme (VPiPP) is an exciting one-year training opportunity in a fully funded industry placement. The purpose is to be introduced to clinical trial development and learn about how therapeutics are developed from lab to market, including all the compliance and legal steps. This opportunity is available to anyone in a training programme, and you can find more details here.

A global health good news story

One of the greatest privileges of my role is that I get to see the extraordinary breadth and depth of work the College is doing. I want to end my final message of 2023 with a good news story from our amazing Global Team. Our programme in Rwanda is one that genuinely gives me hope and I think you will also find it inspiring.

In the mid-1990s, Rwanda was struggling with a widely collapsed health system, with profoundly challenging indicators of maternal, newborn and child health. Since then, Rwanda has climbed to heights virtually unseen in any other low-income developing country. Building back out of the horrifying 1994 genocide, the Rwanda Government has channelled scarce financial and technical resources into an implacable commitment to reach its Sustainable Development Goals for Health. Working with the Ministry of Health, the Rwanda Paediatric Association, with UNICEF and partners, and with Rwanda’s cadre of clinical specialists, GPs, nurses and midwives, RCPCH Global has collaborated in a perinatal care quality programme covering around half of the public hospitals in the country. Over that time, in the programme hospitals, neonatal mortality has fallen by almost 44%.

With stunning progress, however, come new challenges – how to enhance survival amongst the very small and very sick babies? How to structure the national and local welfare systems capable of supporting families returning home from the Neonatal Unit, now more than before with a proportion of those surviving newborns in need of the kinds of therapeutic care that can, if addressed early enough, mitigate the insults of difficult birth? As the country advances, the College’s role will change. But what will not change is our partnership and friendship with paediatric colleagues across that extraordinary country.

On that note of hope and optimism, I wish you all good health and happiness over this holiday time and looking forward to the brilliant work that we will all achieve in 2024.

With my very best wishes to you and your families – and take care.

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