Uncertain times and the future of paediatrics

With Brexit very much on his mind, Russell talks about how we strengthen our international links in Europe and beyond, and encourages members - of all levels - to get involved with our ambitious new project to influence our profession's future.

Building on our international links

You won’t be surprised that all things Brexit have been very much on my mind lately. I have been very mindful of the concerns and confusion felt by members and patients alike. When my patients have raised issues with me in clinic, I say to them what I put in my recent email to members – that uncertainty seems to be the biggest danger.

It is important to me that one of our responses to Brexit is to build on our international links

It’s impossible currently to say more about what Brexit may mean for us, our services and our children and young people - aside from the very real dangers of uncertainty, given that as I write there is still no clarity – but as I said in my email we are working closely with all the relevant bodies to make sure everything that can be done is being done to plan for and protect our patients. Keep an eye on our website for updates when we are able to say more.

It is important to me that one of our responses to Brexit is to build on our international links – both in Europe and beyond. I have worked over the past year to strengthen our links with my home country, Australia, because we share a lot of commonality in health systems and training. I’ve also put quite a bit of effort into making sure our links with the two European paediatric organisations are strong. Our training and examination system is currently tied to the European Union through the European Academy of Paediatrics (EAP). The European Paediatric Association (EPA/UNEPSA) represents a broader church of paediatric societies across Europe, inside and outside the EU.

There will be many advantages in us staying closely aligned with Europe regardless of what happens post Brexit, and I am determined we will do that – and discussions I had with the EAP and EPA groups last week make it clear they are very receptive to us doing that.

This will be a celebration of the UK at the heart of European paediatric science and also showcasing UK paediatrics to the world

But, we should also be open to other opportunities that might arise. To this end it was perhaps fortunate that I was in Panama earlier this month for the International Paediatric Association (IPA, but perhaps that’s one acronym too far). #TeamRCPCH will be hosting the next IPA international meeting in Glasgow in August 2021 – and we are determined that this will be a celebration of the UK at the heart of European paediatric science and also showcasing UK paediatrics to the world.

Russell speaks at IPA Panama in March 2019

Looking ahead to 2040

One of the most exciting things we did last month was to launch Paediatrics 2040. This is a two-year project to look ahead to 2040 (only 20 years from now) and try to work out where our profession will be in that time. I’m a great believer that if you work to imagine the future (dream, if you will) then you can influence the future. Otherwise the future will just happen to us.

The College has always been good at looking a few years ahead – but I am convinced we now need a much longer-term vision. This is particularly true in training. We should be training paediatricians for the ways they will be working in their future, not training them for our current situation.

We need to work out what mid-21st century College support looks like

Paediatrics 2040 is an ambitious project that I would like every College member or fellow to become involved with over the next two years. It entails starting with data to identify our best guesses as to how many children and young people there will be and what type of conditions they will suffer from. Obviously I have upgraded the College crystal ball for this. We will use data from the Global Burden of Disease study plus a range of other data inputs, looking at which conditions have increased over the past decade and which conditions are going away, and project these trends out to 2030 and 2040.

We will put these data together with what we know about innovations that will transform our practice – not just genomics or AI, but innovations in the way we work together. We will then use this information on data and innovations to inform projections of the models of care we will be working in (where we will be working, how, and with which other professionals). And lastly, and potentially most importantly, this will inform how we train paediatricians for 2040 – and how we as a College support them across their working life. This last bit is hugely important – we need to work out what mid-21st century College support looks like – and it’s probably quite different to what Colleges did in the early 21st century!

Our trainees and aspiring paediatricians are as important in this as our current consultants. Or perhaps more so, as they will still be working in 2040 whereas many older consultants will be chewing the cud of retirement. We have therefore asked the Chair of our Trainee Committee, the brilliant Hannah Jacob, to co-chair the 2040 project with me (and you can listen to her talk about it on the Two Paeds in a Pod podcast). And, we have a good helping of medical students, FYs and trainees on each of the working groups. 

You will hear much more from me about Paediatrics 2040 over the next two years. If you are interested we will be running a lot of consultation sessions across the UK this year and next, starting with sessions at the RCPCH Conference and exhibition in Birmingham in May. This year's event has a great range of exciting speakers and sessions, and I look forward to seeing you there.