I hope it won’t surprise you to know that, almost without exception, the main theme of meetings I currently represent the College at is the workforce and the enormous pressure our services are under. This is true for every specialty and branch of the healthcare system, and it certainly is true of every part of children’s services nationally across the UK. There are the more predictable demands of elective recovery from the pandemic and the challenges that the array of circulating viruses present to our acute and emergency services.
And then there are the less predicted but probably not surprising demands that have arisen as we try and support parents, especially of very young children, who have possibly never seen their small child unwell and who struggle to know whom they can turn to for timely advice. It’s worth being reminded how frightening it can be to have a very unwell toddler – even as a doctor-parent - and you can see our advice posters.
We will use every possible opportunity to press policymakers for a fully funded workforce plan... investing in staff wellbeing and creating inclusive and compassionate workplaces
When these demands on our services coincide with a time that our workforce is stretched to breaking point with illness, vacancies and requirements to isolate due to the pandemic, then it is no surprise that we frantically reach out to each other and fear for how we are going to keep things afloat through the winter and support our teams in such difficult times. This week, Cathryn Chadwick, our Vice President for Training and Assessment, has written about ways in which our trainees can be supported.
I know that paediatricians are some of the most altruistic and hard-working medical professionals around. I also know that most of us go to work to do a good job and are committed to supporting our colleagues and developing the best and safest possible care for our patients. When we find ourselves in situations where this does not seem possible, when workload feels excessive and staffing or resources are inadequate, then circumstances collide to create horribly stressful workplaces. In these circumstances, it is very difficult to switch off when we are at home too.
I realise that all of this will be very familiar to you. The crucial question is – what are we going to do about it? As a College, we are totally committed to an unremitting focus on our workforce and will use every possible opportunity to press policymakers for a fully funded workforce plan which doesn’t just describe how staff will be trained and retained, but also reinforces the importance of investing in staff wellbeing and creating inclusive and compassionate workplaces.
I am determined that we will use this current difficult time to truly learn lessons and consider innovations that will mean that future winters are better
We also are actively working with our closest specialty partners, particularly the Royal Colleges of General Practitioners and Emergency Medicine, to understand where we can improve communications, share learning, support and understand better how we can help improve patient flow from primary through to secondary care. In addition, we are supporting and sharing our expertise with the NHS England Children and Young People team and the equivalent teams in the three devolved nations wherever possible. This has meant that “winter planning” started in the spring this year and has led to increased funding to support the predicted RSV surge this winter as well as early rollout of Palivizumab for specific vulnerable groups of infants.
It is true to say, though, that despite really careful early planning for the winter, we are set for a bumpy ride through to next spring. There are no “quick fixes” and we are all going to need to work together and support each other as we face a very testing time. Despite how bad it sometimes feels, we’ve had really tough winters before... so I am determined that we will use this current difficult time to truly learn lessons and consider innovations that will mean that future winters are better.
There is huge recognition amongst the public of the incredible work that the NHS has done but also the immense pressures that people are under as they try and deliver a safe service for patients. Wherever we work, we have an important opportunity now to consider new ways of working, capitalise on what integration of services could really mean for children and develop our workforce over the long term so we don’t face winters like this one again.
We continue also to keep an extremely close watch on the universal COVID-19 vaccine rollout to 12-15 year olds in the UK. In the College’s latest podcast, I recap on the background of the steps leading to rollout to 12-15 year olds, and offer reflections on some of the topical issues this has been raising, as well as considerations on the future.
Before I sign off, this is a significant week for families who are struggling to make ends meet, for whom the £20 per week universal credit uplift has been a huge help over the last months. To lose this just as we are going into winter and facing rising gas and food prices is a devastating blow. We are using all means possible to raise our concerns on your behalf. We are also supporting the campaign to increase access to free school meals. Please consider lobbying your MP in the run up to the Comprehensive Spending Review by emailing them using this link.
Finally – it doesn’t seem enough to simply say thank you. However, I never cease to be in awe of the work ethic and sheer talent I see around me whenever I am with paediatricians. You are all amazing – thank you!
With my best wishes and please take care,
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