What a strange summer it has been. As I write this, it is 30°C outside after one of the wettest and most miserable Augusts I can remember. The confused and disordered seasons reflect a bit how I am feeling as I look back on the past four weeks since I last wrote to you. In the short space of a month our profession, and specifically our specialty, has been rocked by the verdict in the Lucy Letby case and all the circumstances around that, as well as the brave revelations of Martha Mills’ parents who want her story and her death to change the way we practice and specifically how we improve safety.
Lucy Letby verdict
It is hard to underestimate the utter shock and bewilderment most of us feel as the facts in the wake of the conviction of Lucy Letby, the neonatal nurse who murdered seven babies and attempted to murder six others, are pored over in great detail by the media. I am struck by the determination of our paediatric colleagues at the Countess of Chester who worked tirelessly to make their neonatal unit a safe place. For many of us in clinical practice, death is unfortunately a part of our day-to-day work and there are systems in place to help us understand why deaths occur. But when the science can no longer give you the answers, we may be forced to think the unthinkable.
The impact of this event on the parents of our patients as well as neonatal nurses and doctors across the country should not be underestimated. I have heard that some trusts have recognised this and made a determined effort to support their staff. One trust executive team made a point of visiting the neonatal unit to talk to and reassure parents, and to meet the whole clinical team to make sure they were okay. For those of us in leadership positions, we should not underestimate how hard both parents and staff are finding things currently and small acts of kindness and reassurance mean a huge amount. If any of you or your colleagues are finding things especially difficult, please don’t forget that you can access support through the NHS Practitioner Health Programme.
You will be aware that the Secretary of State has announced a statutory inquiry to look into the circumstances of this tragedy which will be chaired by Lady Justice Thirlwall. The inquiry terms of reference have not yet been finalised, but we will keep you updated, and of course the College will be ready to engage with the inquiry when it starts.
Martha Mills was a 13-year-old girl who tragically died two years ago after a pancreatic injury sustained from falling off her bicycle led to a fatal bout of sepsis. Her mother, Merope, has written so eloquently and movingly about their experience. I know many of you read her article in the Guardian and will know that the second anniversary of her death marks a moment that her parents wish to see used to improve the way in which families can escalate their concerns for a loved one. ‘Martha’s Rule’, as they hope to call it, would be a rule that would allow patients or their families to request an immediate review of care by a senior clinician not directly involved in the care.
The Secretary of State has indicated that he wants to understand how this might be implemented by the NHS. Patient safety is all of our concern and the College will be looking at how we can meaningfully contribute to this important conversation. We have published our initial reflections and more work will follow.
Your RCPCH Annual General Meeting (AGM) will be held online on Tuesday 12 September at 14:00. All College members can join this virtual event. You will have received an email this week from Civica Election Services, who are overseeing the AGM, with instructions as to how to join the online event and for eligible voters, how to vote online. We will review the past year, hear received reports and vote on three proposed motions. Download the agenda and find more details on our website.
Your next President and Treasurer
I can’t quite believe that my three-year term as President is nearing an end next March 2024. Time flies…and now the process for finding my successor has started. It has been the greatest honour of my professional life to serve in this role. Please consider standing and don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to explore what it involves or if you have any questions. The President is appointed via election and the first step is to complete the online form for President and follow the easy steps described on this website.
We are also needing to find a successor to Liz Marder who has done an incredible job over the last five years as College Treasurer. This is a very interesting role which allows the incumbent to serve as a Trustee on the College Board of Trustees, as well as a Senior Officer. There is plenty of information about the Treasurer role too on this website.
Our manifesto for the next UK General Election
Finally, it’s always good to end on an upbeat note! We have just launched our manifesto in preparation for the forthcoming general election which will be some time over the next year. We have deliberately timed it so we are ready for the forthcoming political party conferences and as we gear up to influence politicians, advisors and party officials about the priorities for child health. I say this is an ‘upbeat note’ because we must use this opportunity to make the case for children and lay out the clear impact that childhood has over the life course and hence why investment is so crucial. I am really excited by this and hope that our manifesto, and my blog to go with it, will help you have confidence about how seriously the College is taking this and also when and how you can to take part.