Bulletin July 2023 Number 203

Hello and welcome to the July issue of the Bulletin.

The summer is here and most of the UK has had at least some sunshine. I hope you have all had chance to enjoy it. It has been a very busy few months for the College since I last wrote. In particular, we have been working on the College budgets and financial plans for the next few years. None of us can have escaped the cost of living crisis affecting the whole country and affecting everyone’s finances. The College is also under pressure from these adverse conditions – high inflation, high utility bills, high mortgage rates. All organisations I have spoken to are similarly feeling these cost pressures.

The College’s Finance team, together with staff, honorary officers and the Trustee Board, have worked hard to find ways to limit the impact of this cost of living crisis. Full details of the budget and finances, together with the proposals to mitigate these current high costs, will be included in the minutes of the Trustee Board, which will be uploaded to the College website in due course. We have a robust plan, and I am confident we will see out this difficult period successfully. However, it would be wrong of me not to tell you that the College is exposed to these high costs, which none of us can control and which may be with us for some time.

Congratulations to our President Elect

On a happier note, I would like to congratulate Dr Bernie Croal for being elected the 21st President of the College. Bernie is a consultant chemical pathologist working for the NHS in Aberdeen. Bernie has a huge wealth of experience in pathology and pathology management having been NHS Scotland clinical director and regional lead for pathology, NHS Scotland demand optimisation lead and chair of the Scottish Clinical Biochemistry Network (SCBN). Bernie was also President of the Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine (ACB) until last month. 

Bernie has been very heavily involved in College activities for many years, as Scotland Regional Council Chair for 9 years, a Trustee for 13 years and as Vice President from 2011 to 2014. I have worked closely with Bernie in his position as Scotland Chair for all my presidency and I know he will bring wisdom and expertise to the role. I am sure the College will flourish under his leadership, and I wish him all the very best for when he takes over in November. Until then, Bernie will remain as Scotland Regional Council Chair and begin taking on tasks that he will continue throughout his presidency. Bernie and I are working closely together to dovetail our periods in office, to ensure as seamless a handover as possible in November.

Join the College and make a difference

November is also the time when other honorary officers will demit office having completed their tenure. As a result, as well as the position of Scotland Regional Council Chair, there will be 3 new Vice Presidents and a new Registrar, all starting at the same time. Nominations for all these posts are now open and I would urge each and every one of you to consider applying to one of these exciting roles.

Everyone has something to offer the College, their colleagues and the profession ... I would urge each and every one of you to consider applying to one of these exciting roles.

Submitting your nomination is quick and simple. These roles are not only enjoyable and rewarding, but offer experience and learning opportunities that are difficult to acquire in other areas of professional practice. You will help define and develop pathology services and your profession nationally and internationally in the coming years. Everyone has something to offer the College, their colleagues and the profession. 

Our response to the long-term NHS workforce plan

The long-awaited long-term NHS workforce plan was published at the end of June by NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care and I was pleased to be interviewed by Sky News to get the College view across.

The plan focused on 3 key areas – training, retention and reform and is supported and funded by the government who has pledged £2.4 billion over the next 5 years to open additional education and training places.

This is a really significant investment in the health workforce, and so in patient care. We know that the chronic shortage of pathologists means that diagnostic and treatment capacity has failed to keep pace with increasing demand and patient need.  It is vital for patients that there is a properly resourced, supported and sustainable pathology workforce. This plan sets out a route to achieve this.

Some pathology specialties face acute workforce pressures with high vacancy rates, compounded by training places not being filled so it is encouraging to see a focus on improving staff retention. This is not just about pay and pensions, but about modernising employment practices and focusing on staff wellbeing.

We welcome the 3-pronged approach of train, retain and reform. All of these elements are vital, as is a long-term commitment to the plan if the real promise of this announcement is to be fulfilled.

There is a great deal of detail in the plan, and several new initiatives were announced. We are taking time to analyse the plan thoroughly and will respond further.

Supporting pathologists in Northern Ireland

Over the last few months, the College has been working hard to support and promote the profession. In May, I attended the Northern Ireland Symposium in Belfast. Thank you to everyone and especially to Gareth McKeeman, Chair of the Northern Ireland Regional Council, for making me so very welcome. The meeting in Queens University featured great presentations and useful, informative discussion. Our meeting with Professor Ian Young, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, touched on many subjects but we particularly focused on how best to optimise pathology service delivery in Northern Ireland.

We stated our intent for continued involvement in any further discussions, to further support our members in providing an excellent service to patients.

In June, I was back in Northern Ireland to attend a meeting hosted by the Health and Social Care Department to discuss the options for restructuring pathology services within Northern Ireland. With other professional bodies, including our colleagues at the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS), we discussed the possible options that have been put forward for this restructuring programme. While no final decision has yet been made, we highlighted that issues around the need to support staff and adequate resourcing had to be considered if high-quality pathology services are to be delivered to all in Northern Ireland. This remains the same regardless of which option is chosen by the government. We stated our intent for continued involvement in any further discussions, to further support our members in providing an excellent service to patients.

Gaining input from pathology services across the UK

In June, I was lucky enough to be invited to visit County Durham & Darlington NHS Foundation Trust – one of the largest NHS trusts in the country. It was a fascinating and enjoyable visit to a very beautiful part of the world. The visit was generously hosted by Dr Paul Barrett who also arranged for me to meet Mr Jeremy Cundall, Medical Director at the trust, which was extremely useful. My discussions with staff and the Medical Director were very informative and will help to shape the College’s position on a variety of topics. This includes outsourcing, external quality control schemes, laboratory services and design, and the position of pathology in the larger NHS service picture. Thank you to everyone involved.

Fit-for-purpose community diagnostic centres

Our All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Diagnostics has started gathering evidence on the successes and challenges faced by community diagnostic centres (CDC). We have held 2 successful roundtable discussions in parliament. Chaired by Maggie Throup MP, we were joined by Members of Parliament, Peers and other senior policymakers. At the first session, we heard from Professor Sir Mike Richards, UK National Screening Committee Chair and instigator of the CDC programme, Alexandra Pinches, Head of the CDC programme, and Dr Rhydian Phillips, Director of System Improvement at NHS England, who led discussions. They highlighted where we are with this programme in terms of the number of CDCs, the varying types of sites they occupy and services they provide, and the plans for their further roll out. The second session brought together colleagues who have experience of setting up and running CDCs with a focus on patient experience and regional case studies. 

The feedback from patients is that they are very keen on CDCs that can deliver diagnostic services that are easy to reach and close to their homes.

We discussed the most effective delivery of diagnostic services to patients and how CDCs fitted into that picture. The feedback from patients is that they are very keen on CDCs that can deliver diagnostic services that are easy to reach and close to their homes. CDCs, and the laboratories and other service providers that support the diagnostic tests they offer (whether they are based at the CDC itself or not), need to have adequate staffing and resources. This was at the centre of the discussion and needs to continue to be going forward. 

We will produce documentation on the outcomes of the meetings and both our and the Royal College of Radiologists’ views on the CDC programme. 

'Liverpool 2023’

I was honoured to represent the College at ‘Liverpool 2023’, the 14th Joint Meeting of the British Division of the International Academy of Pathology (BDIAP) and the Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland (PathSoc). These kindred pathology organisations are based in the College building and we work regularly together on various projects, for example the Pathology Alliance which advocates for pathology and supports pathology training. 

The multidisciplinary meeting, in the beautiful and fun city of Liverpool, brought together histopathologists, molecular pathologists, scientists, clinicians, laboratory technicians, trainees, PhD students and undergraduates, to hear about the latest advances in our rapidly changing field. The lectures, posters and presentations were excellent. There were talks from many College members and officers and posters highlighting the work of the Pathology Portal and the COVID Post-mortem Portal. Throughout the meeting there was a real focus on pathology research and training.

Ensuring safe and effective point-of-care testing

Working once again with our colleagues in the IBMS and ACB, we produced important guidance on point-of-care testing, which is now available on our website. This guidance has been produced in response to changing demands on pathology services. Technology has afforded increasing virtual and remote methods of working and of testing patients, and public demand for self-testing and home testing has grown, at least in part because of the success of home testing during COVID. The ways healthcare, and therefore pathology services and tests, are used and delivered is changing and there are increasing demands for point-of-need and point-of-care testing. 

The guidance provides advice on how to develop and run these point-of-care tests to ensure a high-quality, safe, accurate and efficient service for patients: a service at least equivalent to one they would receive if the test was conducted in a more traditional setting. The guidance particularly emphasises the importance of high-quality governance and oversight. This includes appropriate input from suitable expert pathology staff, and appropriate resourcing, to ensure appropriate testing, test accuracy and patient safety. I would recommend this guidance to anyone involved in point-of-care and/or point-of-need testing or services.

Celebrating pathology

This year’s RCPath Achievement Awards were given to 5 teams who were selected by the College’s  Nominations Committee. Covering a range of pathology specialties and including teams from across the UK and overseas, the winners exemplify teamwork at it best, ultimately improving the care and treatment of patients. I was delighted to present members from the winning teams with their awards at the College's Annual Dinner on 22 June. You can find out more about the winning teams here.

National Pathology Week ran from 19 to 25 June and was once again a huge success.

National Pathology Week ran from 19 to 25 June and was once again a huge success. Highlighting the 75th anniversary of the NHS this year, and with a book club event, virtual quizzes and an art-science workshop, there was something for everyone.  There were a variety of events around the UK, all celebrating and highlighting pathology and the huge role we play in delivering healthcare to the public. This role was echoed in the week’s theme of ‘Pathologists and Patients’. Thank you to everyone who took part and supported this great celebration of our specialty.