It’s hard to remain positive and optimistic when you find yourself in the depths of a really difficult winter in the NHS. It’s tough to keep your cool when the demands on you continually increase and you haven’t had a break, eaten anything or seemingly even had a chance to take a breath. It’s a real ‘dig deep’ moment when you need to support a struggling colleague or need to meet an angry or disappointed or frightened parent. It’s exhausting when you arrive at work to find, yet again, several people have called in sick or a rail strike means half the shift is late.
No UK paediatrician needs me to tell them that we are experiencing an extremely challenging and busy winter – probably at least as busy as 2019 which was very difficult. What gives a whole extra layer of challenge is that we also need to recognise that we are all feeling bruised and battered from the last few years and the constant challenges around staffing really do mean that we’re in a very tough environment. In recognition of how difficult this winter is, you may have seen the letter to the service across the UK sent from a number of senior leaders in the NHS and the GMC, including Professor Sir Steve Powis and the four UK Chief Medical Officers. As a College, we are committed to working with all the other medical royal colleges to highlight these challenges and to work with the GMC to ensure that recognition of the current context is deeply and genuinely embedded in processes.
There is something about the surrounding world that also forms the background to this winter. There are questions about impact of the cost-of-living crisis and the huge numbers of different groups of workers actively discussing industrial action. We have tried to address some of these questions and the impact that any industrial action within the NHS might have on training by publishing some practical advice as well as a wider FAQ document. The intention is that this will help signpost paediatricians with questions or who need advice, to the best organisations who can help.
The Chancellor’s statement took place today. There were a mix of actions, including a rise in benefits for lower-income families although it was disappointing to see no mention of extending free school meals. On workforce, the Chancellor announced that a comprehensive workforce plan will be published next year. It’s expected to include independently-verified forecasts for the number of doctors, nurses and other professionals that will be needed in 5, 10 and 15 years’ time, taking full account of improvements in retention and productivity. You can read the College’s response to the Chancellor’s statement.
Welsh Paediatric Society
Despite all our current difficulties, I was honoured to join the Welsh Paediatric Society for their Autumn Clinical meeting in Newport last Friday. I was so struck by the high-quality presentations that several undergraduates gave and it was a reminder that, despite everything, we are still attracting some truly stellar young people into medicine and the students in Wales were clearly very interested in the possibility of a career in paediatrics – so the future is bright! It’s important to mention that this level of undergraduate engagement doesn’t just magically happen! There are some superb and highly committed paediatricians in Wales who actively include students in projects and coach them in presentation skills. So hats off and thanks to the Welsh Paediatric Society!
NNAP 2021 Annual Report
The National Neonatal Audit Programme (NNAP) is a crucial audit tool for measuring standards of care and improving outcomes. I am so thrilled with the 2021 Report which is a reflection of hundreds of paediatricians and neonatal nurses across England and Wales methodically entering data via the Badger system, which then allows the NNAP team to analyse the data and highlight variations in care and adherence to key outcome measures. The audit tool is interactive and so any trust or health board can dig into their own data and see how it compares regionally and nationally. The potential for genuine quality improvement is enormous and the opportunity for parents and families to understand the care of their babies is also an impressive part of this work.
Email your MP - #ShiftTheDial
Our Health Inequalities work continues and it’s fantastic that almost 1,100 child health professionals signed open letters calling on political leaders to #ShiftTheDial on child health inequalities. Despite this, last month it was reported the Health Disparities White Paper, which would cover England, could be scrapped. As it remains unclear what the new UK Government’s stance is on health inequalities, we want to remind them of their previous commitments and the impact of poverty on health inequalities. For those of you in England, we have launched a campaign that allows you to write to your local MP asking that they intervene on the topic and I’d very much encourage you to take part. Please let’s keep the momentum and pressure up. We cannot allow child health inequalities to slip out of sight and consciousness.
Sign up for climate change news
If you are inspired by all the discussion about climate change this week, as COP27 continues, and want to learn more about the impact on child health, please sign up to our new climate change eBulletin. This is a really good way to keep abreast of the new and emerging evidence on this important topic. Here is the link to the sign-up form.
Our 2022 Impact Report
Finally – to end on a positive note – I am delighted that we have just published our 2022 RCPCH Impact Report. This is an important opportunity to stop and take stock of what we’ve achieved and what we’ve done to improve the health of children and young people. Do check it out when you get a spare moment – this is our collective work and it’s good to celebrate things that have gone well.
With my best wishes – and take care
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