21 December 2023

A festive message from your RCP officers

Just looking at last week’s NHS England figures shows that despite increased need, workforce pressures and ongoing industrial action, waiting lists actually fell very slightly. This is just one marker of the determined efforts and commitment of NHS staff, who continue to provide excellent care in difficult and challenging environments.

Ahead of the 2024 general election, the RCP has been working with the UK government and opposition parties to influence political manifestos. This year we successfully called for a Long Term Workforce Plan, which promises to double the number of medical school training places by 2031. First proposed by the RCP in 2018, this increase will change the face of medical education in the UK. Next year, we’ll be further developing the ideas in our Shape of medicine discussion paper, so please take some time to read it, then get in touch to let us know what you think and help us continue to influence governments on this key issue.

Next year looks like it will be just as challenging as 2023. I know that all of us in the healthcare sector will have our resilience tested. It’s incredibly important that we look out for each other and care for ourselves as well as our patients. Even a 5-minute cup of coffee (and perhaps a mince pie) can help a struggling colleague.

This time of year sees many of us also trying to balance an increased workload with a desire to spend time and celebrate with friends and family. For some, it will be a traditional family Christmas – others have to work, or have a different home set-up. My parents and in-laws are no longer with us, but Sebastian and I take pleasure in gathering with other family and old friends to celebrate the season. As I’m working on Christmas Day, this year will also involve some festive treats with my colleagues.

I hope that, whatever, however and whenever you celebrate, it is joyful. And I hope that you all manage to take some time to relax and recharge. If I could have a festive wish for 2024, I think that would be it – that we can look after each other and make more time for ourselves and our loved ones.

Read on for some more festive wishes from my fellow senior officers. I have fond memories of attending Wimbledon panto as a child (John Inman was a memorable star!) and our registrar Cathryn Edwards takes inspiration from similar trips for her ‘magic wish’, while clinical vice president John Dean helps us ‘stop, start and continue’ (sounds a bit like my car!) to improve. Treasurer Simon Bowman has a festive wish for trainee colleagues, vice president for education and training Mumtaz Patel has hopes for global women leaders, and our vice president for Wales Hilary Williams hopes to continue to get out and speak to more members and colleagues.

I hope your wishes come true.
Dr Sarah Clarke, president

John Dean, clinical vice president
It's been a really tough year in the NHS for physicians, teams and patients, and while 2024 isn’t obviously looking better, it may be time to rebalance our thinking, messaging and priorities.  

One service improvement simple framework I use is stop, start, continue. Because otherwise we just add more to our expectations, and we don’t feel great when we don’t achieve. 

Let's stop overpromising our patients and the public. We must be honest about what the NHS can deliver and emphasise that we are working collaboratively to improve what we can.

Let's start celebrating all the great care that’s being delivered every day by clinical teams working together to deliver the best possible care within our constraints.

Let's continue to look after each other, keeping a close eye on more vulnerable colleagues, taking 5–10 minutes to talk, have a coffee, and just show that we care for each other.

Personally this year, I’ll be moving to a new city – so I’ll stop paying rent, start packing boxes, and continue this mad, eclectic and nomadic life that energises and fulfils me! Happy Christmas!

Simon Bowman, treasurer
My greatest hope in 2024 is that trainee colleagues are in a better place across their various areas of concerns and unhappiness. Having a sufficient, supported, well-trained and motivated workforce is critical for the future of the NHS.

Hilary Williams, vice president, Wales
I love a conference, and of course, I particularly love an RCP conference. If I am really honest, while I enjoy the lectures and the learning, I love the chat even more. From Cardiff to London, Leeds to Carmarthen, Bangor to Aberystwyth,: the best bit of my year has been talking to doctors in training, specialty, specialist and locally employed doctors, consultant physicians, health service managers and postgraduate education teams about making the NHS a better place. More often than not, it can feel like we are in survival mode, but our teams have so many ideas and interesting approaches, along with a clear focus on what does and doesn’t work, and the energy is very present. One of the pleasures of being vice president is that I have an excuse to talk to everyone and at Med+ in London and at the Cardiff Update in medicine I had so much fun:; learning about people’s lives, challenges, enthusiasms, and importantly what they loved and what they didn’t love about the RCP. 

As well as city life, I have visited smaller hospitals across Wales this year, and when we get it right the connection with the community delivers so much. At Prince Philip Hospital in west Wales, the warmest hospital welcome ever came from the Dogs Trust greyhound (just at the right height for wheelchairs and toddlers). Developing and understanding the workforce for our smaller rural hospitals and communities is high on the agenda for RCP Cymru Wales in 2024. 

My own oncology clinics cover Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and I hope Nye Bevan himself would be reassured by this commitment to learn, change and battle to provide the care that our communities need. So although the political winds have been very tough in 2023, I know we head into 2024 with the best workforce. Nadolig llawen! 

Mumtaz Patel, vice president for education and training 
This year has seen a change in roles for me, from completing a 3-year term as RCP’s Global vice president to being elected as senior censor and vice president for education and training (VPET). One of the main things to celebrate was the successful launch and delivery of our Global Women Leaders programme, which I am passionate about. It launched in Jordan on International Women’s Day in March and we delivered the programme to our first cohort of participants in Pakistan between May and July. The feedback from champions and participants has been very positive and humbling. The impact of the programme has been great, with strong evidence of system and policy change. We are very proud of the programme, and I am very grateful for the support of my RCP Education/Global teams as well as support of our partners internationally.

Since starting in my VPET role, I have been working closely with Tom Baker, executive director of education, on developing our new education strategy (planned to launch in spring 2024). We recently carried out a consultation exercise with key internal and external partners, which was a great help. 

I am very proud of what our team achieved over the past year, despite challenges of staffing and pressures. We delivered 265 days of training and supported 4,022 learners on our programmes. Three new commissioned leadership programmes have been launched this year. The total podcast downloads are just over half a million, and free to members e-learning has been accessed over 6,000 times this year. The Assessment Unit reached a huge milestone, delivering exams to over 20,000 candidates since its inception 5 years ago. PACES23 has been launched successfully and this year has seen a 20% increase in capacity of delivery of PACES and a significant increase in examiner training.

My festive wish is to continue building on the success of our Global Women Leaders programme, launch our new Education strategy and ensure that our activities meet the needs of our entire membership, acknowledging the changing workforce and challenging climate, which I sincerely hope will improve with time.

Cathryn Edwards, registrar
My late sister loved pantomimes. She dragged us all (some unwillingly) off to Richmond each year, where we would try to suspend disbelief as Aladdin, Cinderella et al were granted their wishes with a quick rub of an old lamp and wave of an LED wand. Hey presto – it was a done deed.

A New Year wish for the NHS – if the genie is on their A game and our fairy godmother on overtime – is an all-encompassing digital fix! A fully integrated, fast-performing, intelligent system that curates down to service provision level (a clinic, an endoscopy list, a ward round) all the accompanying patient data available to make informed clinical decisions. Flagged results prioritised and linked to clinic letters; biopsy results linked to endoscopy list activity; endoscopy digital display contemporaneously linked to cross-sectional images – all at the touch of a button! Oh, and let’s not forget full integration across the health system nationally, including primary and social care. People holidaying in Devon have their health (passport) record immediately to hand.

Back in the real world, I’ll look forward to the continued success of our digital healthcare strategy ... and perhaps my clinic computer actually switching on in the New Year!