Bulletin Number 194

Hello and welcome to the April 2021 issue of the Bulletin. This issue highlights genomics and has a variety of illuminating articles exploring this important theme. Genomics is an exciting, rapidly developing area and one which promises huge advances in diagnosis and, ultimately, in patient care. It will help us on the path to truly personalised medicine.

Pushing forward with advances in genomics

As a College, we are focusing on the development of a high-quality, comprehensive, user-friendly genomics service as one of our core strategic aims. With this in mind, Professor Sarah Coupland, one of our Vice Presidents, is working very closely with Dr Louise Jones, our Genomics & Reproductive Science SAC Chair to help us achieve this aim. Together they represent the College on a variety of high-level national genomics committees and groups. They are working with College members to ensure the voice of pathology and our members is heard clearly. We share the aim that our national genomics service becomes the world leader our members and our patients deserve. Thank you to them, and to everyone involved in developing this service, for all your hard work.

Listening to and including all our members

The College strategy for the next three years is in the final stages of development. Beyond genomics, another core strategy area is to listen to members and to deliver College activities that reflect your feedback to us. We are reviewing the results of the recent member survey and I will report on this shortly. We are already working hard towards becoming more diverse and inclusive and we want all members to feel that they can and should contribute to College activities. Our Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group is moving us toward this goal, with initial proposed steps including:

  • gathering appropriate diversity data to help us understand the makeup of the College membership to better inform our activities
  • looking at barriers that discourage member involvement
  • reviewing College material to ensure it is inclusive and encourages engagement
  • providing a source of advice for the College committees to inform their work accordingly and help improve diversity of their membership
  • developing links to other medical royal colleges to learn from and work with them in this area
  • planning for and promoting a series of awareness days, e.g. International Women’s Day, to make our diversity visible.

We have a long way to go, but the journey has well and truly started with the Group advising the Trustee Board on these recommendations.

The Pathology Portal: a great resource

Another core area of College strategy is the development of the Pathology Portal. This is a new online platform that will enable members to access image-based material to help and support learning and training. This exciting project is the brainchild of Professor Jo Martin, our former College president, who is the project lead. It is being very generously funded by Health Education England (HEE) and we aim to launch it this summer as part of the HEE Learning Hub, HEE’s new digital platform. It will also be directly accessible from College’s own website.

The portal will enable many excellent teachers and trainers to easily attend meetings and conferences, unfettered by the constraints of time zones and travel, and will provide teaching material to the benefit of all members.

For trainees, the material will be linked to the College curriculum and, in the future, the aim is to have material for consultants. Initially, the early material will be morphology based and cover cellular pathology (a prerequisite of continued HEE funding) and haematology. The content will be rapidly expanded to cover a variety of formats and all our pathology disciplines. Very soon, and with input and material from College members, the portal will become an internationally available platform for hosting videos, online presentations and other teaching and learning formats. It will cover a wide spectrum of pathology training, quality assurance schemes and other learning activities. Our ambition is that it will have something for everyone, including provision of subspecialist training material that is not widely available (e.g. diagnostic cytology, paediatric and neuropathology). It will support flexible training, return-to-work training, quality assurance and competence testing. It will be adaptive, allowing learners to demonstrate the competencies they have acquired.

The portal will enable many excellent teachers and trainers to easily attend meetings and conferences, unfettered by the constraints of time zones and travel, and will provide teaching material to the benefit of all members. This should increase the number of members who can become involved in teaching, training and the work of the College. It will also help ease the training workload, which is often an area under stress given the current workforce issues. We are excited that the portal will provide a single point for learning and training. It promises to be a great resource for all our members in all our specialties going forward.

Engagement with the public and with policymakers

In other areas, projects such as our very successful Viruses and Vaccines resources, developed and delivered with support from our members, have helped dispel myths and misconceptions about vaccination and helped increase population take up of the vaccine, gaining support from NHS England (NHSE) and other healthcare organisations.

Engagement is an area that can be somewhat less visible to those not directly involved in it, but it is a College activity that is arguably one of the most vital. It is through this engagement that the College champions pathology, raising the profile of our Fellows and members, our work and our specialties with the public (many of whom are or will be our patients), and with government, the media and other stakeholders. While some question the importance of advocacy, this is an area that directly influences policy making. We can try to influence governments ourselves, but the affect is amplified if members of the public, their voters, know about pathology and raise pathology issues as well. This is how we can ensure government and policymakers include pathology in their procurement, funding and other plans. All this has a huge direct effect on members as it feeds into workforce, facilities and service provision. Without this engagement, pathology could easily be overlooked when decisions are taken.

For example, our public engagement work has many benefits, not only informing families, school children and students about the important role of pathology, but also, with the similar work of other medical royal colleges, by inspiring school students to consider careers in medicine and then those medical undergraduates to consider careers in pathology. This public engagement is one of the reasons our trainee posts are filled each year, which itself helps with adequate workforce provision in the future. In other areas, projects such as our very successful Viruses and Vaccines resources, developed and delivered with support from our members, have helped dispel myths and misconceptions about vaccination and helped increase population take up of the vaccine, gaining support from NHS England (NHSE) and other healthcare organisations.

In other areas of engagement, NHSE is currently developing Community Diagnostic Hubs (CDHs). These are designed to provide facilities in freestanding locations away from main hospital sites, including on the high street and in retail locations. The aim is to give quicker and easier access to a range of tests, supporting earlier diagnosis, and providing greater convenience to patients. There is real potential here to offer a ‘one stop’ approach that will lead to better outcomes for patients, and so to save lives. I am currently involved in the CDH Expert Group and am working closely with our colleagues from the Royal College of Radiology, Royal College of GPs and Institute of Biomedical Science to ensure the hubs reach their potential and are introduced with sufficient resources, in terms of staffing, IT provision and connectivity with other systems (such as pathology networks and GP practices).

Lay input into College activities

The public has a direct role in the activities of the College through our Lay Network. This is made up of volunteers who support and advise the College on matters of concern to the public to improve the services we provide and so our patients’ experience of pathology. We also have two Trustee Board members and are currently appointing a third. We aim to recruit to these roles from a diverse range of people, with wide fields of expertise complementing the skills of our members and staff and without which the College would find it hard to function. Our lay members contribute to curricula and examinations review, support our guideline production, take part in key working groups and, in the case of the Trustee Board members, are directly involved in the running of the College as a charity.

As we come out of the pandemic, I would like to thank you all, and all the staff at the College, once again, for your hard work and efforts in combating this disease and in keeping services running.

Looking forward to recovery from the pandemic

The vaccine roll out is continuing to go very well and we, together with the other royal colleges, support the programme and encourage all those who can to be vaccinated. Cases are falling and we must look toward the recovery and overcoming the backlog of illness the pandemic has led to. I am involved in a variety of NHSE and other groups discussing the issues around this recovery. I highlight the vital role of pathology and our members in this to ensure we receive an appropriate amount of the resources that will be made available for this. As we come out of the pandemic, I would like to thank you all, and all the staff at the College, once again, for your hard work and efforts in combating this disease and in keeping services running.

Condolences

We were deeply saddened to hear the news of the death of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The College extended our heartfelt condolences to our patron, Her Majesty The Queen, and to all the members of the Royal Family.