"A mixed year for paediatrics" - a quick look back at 2018 and our focus for next year

As we approach the end of 2018, Russell looks forward to our work in the coming year - with the election of two Vice President roles and a strong focus on the paediatric workforce.

I’m sure you’ve had your fill of Christmas messages as you have of Christmas parties – and of political news - so I’ll keep this one brief and make sure you don’t have to reach for the Gaviscon yet again. 

My first message is ‘get the vote out’. We have Vice President elections open for Science and Research and for Policy, and you'll be invited to vote from 4 January. Please read the manifestos through and vote carefully. Vote early and vote often (well maybe not the last one).

2018 has been a mixed year for paediatrics I think.  A curate’s egg in fact - good in parts.

The downsides we all know. Paediatric services and paediatricians felt stretched in 2018 in a way most feel we have not seen before. This is true across all 4 countries. It felt that our children’s hospitals were in the news night after night, with paediatricians seemingly at odds with parents. Our trainees were in the courts – some famously so. 

Winter pressures are upon us and I know that many of your services are feeling the pinch. Workforce is one of our key priorities for next year – and to kick this off we are launching the Workforce briefing winter 2018 report this week. We calculate we are around 850 consultants short across the whole UK – which is a pretty large proportion of our overall workforce.

We will benefit from actions to improve things across the whole workforce

We are clear what needs to be done – and I will be making this clear in meetings with ministers and NHS leaders next year. We know that paediatrics is subject to the same issues as the rest of the workforce, a result of years of underplanning and underfunding, and potentially worse is in sight (yes, Brexit again). We will benefit from actions to improve things across the whole workforce – and we’ve been active with other Colleges in calling for more medical students, increasing flexibility in training, expanding the Medical Training Initiative (currently limited to only some countries) and arguing for immigration changes to encourage more overseas doctors. We also need to expand the financial incentives currently available for GPs and psychiatry to include paediatrics.

It is little comfort to most of you, I’m sure, to know that other specialities are worse off than us – however, this is one of the reasons that we’ve not been able to get much traction from our political and NHS masters. Our ability as a College to change the picture for paediatrics is limited, although I’ve been hugely proud of all our work in the recruitment area, such as the #paedsrocks campaign to enthuse medical students and foundation year doctors about paediatrics. 

Yet I see green shoots of change. Children and young people are now much higher up the political agenda in Westminster than they have been for many years. We have a very strong focus on childhood obesity, and children and young people’s mental health appears to be the issue of the moment (well, apart from Brexit). I had hoped to be able to write here about the NHS England Long Term Plan – we are told the news is good, however the Plan's publication has now been delayed until January (yes by Brexit). Hopefully I will have a clearer update in my first blog of 2019!

Just one update from the diary. I had a blast at the Welsh vs the Irish paediatricians conference (surely the joint Irish Paediatric Association and Welsh Paediatric Society meeting? - Ed). The academic excellence (it was a great programme, full of bright young people presenting interesting and good work) was only matched by the sing-off during dinner: the Irish soul meets the Welsh passion. I couldn’t possibly nominate a winner. Someone suggested we need this at our Conference - though I’m not sure the world is ready for my version of Waltzing Matilda.

Lastly, thanks to all of you who put so much into the work of the College over 2018 – and best wishes for the coming year. 2019 promises to be an ‘interesting’ year for us all – with great threats but also great opportunities for children and young people’s health. I hope you all get the rest you need over the holiday season and hope to meet you at some stage in 2019.