Bulletin January 2016 Number 173

In her first column of 2016 the President reflects on a busy 2015 which included the College moving from Carlton House Terrace to Prescot Street alongside maintaining the core business of the College and an increase in the College’s political engagement.

Welcome also to new Bulletin Editor, Dr Lorna Williamson, under whose leadership I’m sure the publication will flourish.

Looking back on 2015

2015 was a busy year for the College (and certainly the busiest year of my life!), with the move from Carlton House Terrace to Prescot Street and the search for, purchase and planning for redevelopment of our new premises, which have involved every member of staff and all officers to some extent. That didn’t distract anyone from the core business of the College, as you’ll have seen from the many achievements set out in the Year End Review featured in the October issue of the Bulletin.

The AGM in November 2015 saw some changes in College post-holders. I would like to thank all those who demitted office, particularly Dr Andy Boon, who stepped down as Director of Professional Standards after many years of contributing to the work of the College at both regional and national levels. I was delighted to welcome several new Directors and members of Council at the AGM, as well as the College’s two recently appointed Lay trustees, Sir Rodney Brooke and Tommy McIlravey. You can learn more about two of the new Directors and their plans for their roles in the Clinical Effectiveness section of this issue.

Political engagement and 5YFV

2015 saw a significant increase in the College’s political engagement, with a series of meetings, receptions and exhibitions involving MPs and peers, giving us the opportunity to inform parliamentarians about the vital role of pathology and influence health policy. Evidence provided by the College has been quoted several times in both Houses of Parliament and discussed at the Health Select Committee. Ed Davie, the College’s Public Affairs Officer, describes National Pathology Week in Parliament on page 25, which was a huge success. The official launch of the Week, also held in the House of Commons, was very well attended, despite long queues for security.

Our new publication, Pathology and the NHS Five Year Forward View, sets out the College’s key priorities for supporting the NHS and has been well received. Those priorities include the introduction of the National Laboratory Medicine Catalogue to standardise pathology test requesting and reporting across the country, national commissioning of molecular pathology services to ensure that patients have access to the latest techniques irrespective of where they live, support for the Choosing Wisely initiative to encourage discussion between patients and their doctors about the tests and treatments that are best for them, the importance of training the pathology workforce in sufficient numbers and with the right skills to provide world-leading services for the future and the implementation of the long-delayed system of independent medical examiners. The document has been a helpful starting point for conversations with MPs and ministers and has been well received by external organisations. I have recently discussed all these issues with the Secretary of State for Health and Ministers Ben Gummer and George Freeman.

Medical examiners

We waited patiently for the outcome of November’s Comprehensive Spending Review, only to find that medical examiners were not mentioned. However, I have been assured by the Secretary of State for Health that they remain a priority for the Government and that work is going on to look at the practicalities of their implementation. With recent reports from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman into avoidable harm and another into failings at Southern Health, there is even more evidence available about the importance of having a national system of independent medical examiners to investigate deaths, answer relatives’ questions and identify trends so that early action can be taken to prevent future avoidable deaths.

Junior doctors’ contract

As I write, things have gone quiet on the juniors’ contract front, hopefully because the Government and BMA are holding successful talks about the proposed new contract. The College supports a fair contract for all trainees, with recognition of research and experience gained in other specialties and no discrimination against those taking parental leave. Working closely with Dr Alice Wort, Chair of the College’s Trainees’ Advisory Committee, I issued statements on behalf of the College and signed letters to the national press and Secretary of State setting out the College view. Trainees are the future of the specialty and deserve a fair contract that recognises their hard work, particularly if that includes unsocial hours. I would like to thank the trainees who contacted me with their concerns, which enabled me to represent their views when I had the opportunity to do so.


I hope by now you have noticed the complete redesign of the College website, which was developed in consultation with members at every stage. The website is by no means the finished product; several minor changes have already been made in response to members’ feedback and there will be further phases of development following a user survey in the new year. It is now possible to register for exams and add CPD activities easily online. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and the College team who led this project are to be congratulated on delivering such a huge piece of work to such a high standard.


I recently met Professor Terence Stephenson, Chair of the GMC, and members of his team to discuss a range of pathology-related issues. I was concerned to learn that one medical school refuses to allow its students to undertake electives in pathology because they don’t qualify as ‘clinical placements’. When challenged, the medical school in question stated that they were only following GMC guidelines, but I was pleased to be reassured by Terence that that was not the case and that pathology electives are very much supported. I will feed this back to the medical school and hope to see a change of heart.

I also discussed the issue of doctors without a designated body or responsible officer undergoing appraisal and revalidation, something I know applies to a small number of members. The GMC has recently announced that such doctors will have to take an annual exam in one of 12 specialties, of which ‘pathology’ is one. I pointed out the obvious problem of there being no such thing as a consultant in ‘pathology’ but was told that the exam is at finals level so all doctors should be able to pass it. That of course raises the question of why 12 different exams are required, but the objective must be for as few people as possible to take the exam. If members of the College are in that position I suggest they contact the GMC directly to see if there is an alternative route to revalidation; I am assured that the GMC will do all it can to support them.

Other topics discussed included the time taken to approve changes to curricula and the implications of seven-day working on training. It was a very constructive meeting and I hope to meet GMC representatives regularly to continue this dialogue.

Pathology power list

Those of you who have read the latest issue of The Pathologist will have seen the recently published ‘power list’ of the 100 most influential people in pathology worldwide. Candidates were nominated by their peers and selected by a judging panel. Many congratulations to all the College Fellows included in the list, including Vice-President Dr David Bailey, Registrar Dr Rachael Liebmann, former Vice-President Professor Mike Wells, President of the Pathological Society Professor Phil Quirke and President of the ACB Gwyn McCreanor. While these lists are not comprehensive, it is nice to see so many College Fellows and Honorary Fellows included.

New premises in Alie Street

We had hoped to have planning permission for our new premises by now, but unfortunately Tower Hamlets Council have a backlog of applications so the decision has been deferred until February. We have to allow up to three months for appeals against the decision, although we are not expecting any, and hope to start demolition in May/June. The building works will then get underway and are expected to take up to 18 months. The plans for the new building have recently been upgraded to include a larger kitchen to supply catering for internal and external events and improved audio-visual equipment in meeting rooms to provide the best possible facilities for members. High-quality equipment will also make the new College an attractive venue for external companies looking to hire meeting space. The College architects, Bennetts Associates, have developed detailed plans of the new building and a short video, which enables you to ‘walk’ through the building and get a feel for the layout and space. A link to the video, and more information about the new building, are available on the College website in the ‘College Relocation’ section.

Succession planning

I’m only just over one third of the way through my three-year term of office as President so it may seem a little premature to start thinking about my successor, but I’d like to raise the issue before any candidates put themselves forward. My election in 2014 was the first in which all members had the opportunity to vote for the President, all previous presidents having been elected by Council. When I stood, the only manifesto permitted was a 500-word statement, which was sent out with the electronic voting form. This was probably adequate when elections only involved Council, but now that all members can vote I think it is important that all candidates have an equal and increased chance to communicate their strengths and vision to the electorate. Several methods of communicating have been considered, including members submitting questions for each candidate to answer on the website, short video clips in which candidates set out their vision for the College and even a Question Time-style debate in front of an audience of members. I will be in touch with members in early 2016 to ask for your suggestions and to give you an opportunity to submit questions for the candidates. We expect the elections to be held in September/October this year, with the new President-Elect to be confirmed at the AGM in November. The President-Elect will become a member of Council and Trustee Board from that date, if they are not already, but they will not take on any other official duties until the middle of 2017. 

In the College’s 54-year history there have never been two consecutive presidents from the same specialty. Although Trustees considered making this a rule for future elections it was decided that the fairest position was for the best person for the job to be eligible, irrespective of their background. Very little of the work of the president is specialty-specific, so whichever specialty future presidents come from they will need a broad knowledge of the 19 disciplines that make up the College. However, I would particularly like to encourage members in smaller and less well-represented specialties to consider putting themselves forward for College roles as it is important that as many specialties as possible are represented and have the opportunity to lead the profession.

Professor Sir Roddy MacSween

It is with great sadness that I learnt of the recent death of former College President, Professor Sir Roddy MacSween. Roddy was a retired Professor of Pathology at Glasgow University and an expert in pathology of the liver. He inspired many as a teacher, researcher, author and leader and will be sadly missed. Roddy was the first President I met when I was a member of what became the Trainees’ Advisory Committee and was the President who handed me my Membership certificate in 1999. Over the intervening years I met Roddy at many College events and received an encouraging phone call when I was elected President. There will be a memorial service in February and an appreciation of his life will be published in the next issue of the Bulletin.

Looking forward

It is an exciting and challenging time to be working in the NHS and in pathology in particular. As you’ll read in this issue, molecular pathology is transforming the way in which many of us work, and that includes current Fellows as well as the pathologists and scientists of the future. The College will continue to support members to enable them to provide the best possible service to their patients and work with Government and the other medical royal colleges to improve health care for the population. Highlights of the year to come include the start of building work on our new premises, a stand at the Chelsea Flower Show in May, new Fellows’ ceremonies in March and September and National Pathology Week and International Pathology Day in November. I look forward to chairing the first meeting of the new English Regional Council in May and to visiting Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Ireland to meet members during the year. I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible during 2016. In the meantime please do not hesitate to contact me.

Dr Suzy Lishman