There has been a huge amount going on over the last few months and I was wondering where to start in this piece, but then I received a parcel from
a patient containing a letter and chocolates...
Haematologists, immunologists and many of our other colleagues no doubt have regular expressions of thanks from their patients, but I am a histopathologist, and this package was from a patient I have never met. She wrote to thank me for helping her by making a diagnosis several months ago. She had tracked me down to say thank you, and it made my day. Actually, it made my decade.
The College has been doing a lot of work recently to help the public understand how much expertise, from all the disciplines in pathology, supports them during their care. A rough and ready calculation of the years of training and expertise supporting the diagnosis for a young lymphoma patient came out at a minimum of 88 (bloods, films, histology, flow, molecular, infection screening, etc). His diagnosis was not possible without it, and I have had the chance (with his kind permission) to talk about this at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Blood Cancers. MPs and patients were impressed and astonished that so much pathology expertise supports them, and they too are now spreading the word.
We have also been trying to make a difference to some of the pressures you are under. We have been working hard to get messages out about the pathology workforce: we want to get you the support you need. We are pressing for the necessary investment in training and IT to alleviate some of the stress we know you are under. Your data from our workforce surveys have made a huge difference in this effort, and the way the press have picked up the College’s histopathology workforce report – the first of the series – has been really helpful in reinforcing these messages. The next survey, for clinical biochemistry, has just been completed and we are interpreting the results. Haematology will follow hot on the heels of that... please make sure your departments contribute. Data is a powerful tool for persuasion.
Despite the deluge of challenges and things to do, there are moments like the lovely patient letter when you take a brief moment to realise that we do make a difference. The work of College staff also makes a real difference... one example has been the extensive negotiations with HMRC to get tax relief on exam fees for trainee doctors, which has just been followed by confirmation that clinical scientists in training are also eligible, and can claim for the last 4 years.
Similarly, I would like to pay tribute and send massive thanks to all of you who contributed to the workforce report and analysis of the data, to examinations processes, all those giving us professional advice and feedback, as well as those writing best practice guidelines, datasets and all our other publications. We truly appreciate your help, and the difference you’re making.
With the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock there is an opportunity to help develop a more ‘system’ stance of appreciation and support for staff in the health services, where staff are much more highly valued. This will be so important for morale. The Secretary of State is also keen on the role of technology to support patients and we are pushing for this to translate into more user-friendly and efficient IT in our working lives. We have emphasised this in our discussions with him and look forward to seeing how this will manifest.
I have had the remarkable privilege to visit pathology departments all across the UK and Ireland over the last few months and have more visits lined up. We are going to add a map of UK College activities to the website, so that you can see where we have been and where all our regional and local committees, seminars and events are. I have been pleased to attend seminars in Wales,
Northern Ireland and Scotland, as well as rapid visits as part of a safety programme with Jeremy Hunt to six other trusts.
My programme of #labtours has included visits to Ashford, Maidstone, Guildford, Edinburgh, Southampton, Newcastle, Manchester, the Hospital for Tropical Diseases and Halo laboratories in London, as well as St James’s Hospital in Dublin. (By the time this goes to print, Liverpool will also have been kind enough to introduce me to their pathology teams and labs.) These visits are really helpful in appreciating not only the skill, innovation and amazing services that are supporting patients, but also in appreciating some of the constraints you are working under. Occasionally I can even help put in a word with the executive team to try to push on some of the investment or developments that you need.
The other super thing about the lab tours is that I boast about what you are doing. The massive but safe transfer of haemoglobinopathy services from one hospital to another during lab rebuilding, the innovative approach to analyser cooling, the blood spot analysis for prisoners to improve infectious disease detection, desktop MDT software and the training of scientists as advanced practitioners are just some examples of the great work going on. We want to celebrate and recognise these.
As part of our recognition of skills and achievements in pathology, Trustee Board and Council have approved the offer of Diplomate status to those passing the Part 1 FRCPath examination and those completing the Advanced Specialist Diploma awarded by the College/Institute of Biomedical Science conjoint boards. It will also be offered to existing Associates, as well as any individual who has passed FRCPath Part 1 but has not yet taken the opportunity to become a member of the College. The next step over coming months is to notify those who are eligible, and more details about this will be available on the College website in due course. We listened to the feedback from our recent member survey about the importance you place on post-nominals and so are pleased to offer the DipRCPath post-nominal to anyone who becomes a Diplomate.
The medical examiner implementation continues, with the College playing a key role in promoting and coordinating the work to provide training programmes and a network, in collaboration with a wide range of other faculties and organisations. We will support a programme of learning from deaths through CPD events and other opportunities, such as e-learning. A National Medical Examiner to lead this professional group will be appointed, and it is anticipated that this will be advertised in October, with an appointment expected by December.
The College will also soon be announcing the latest winners of our College medals. To find out more about them – and to read about last year’s winners – have a look at our latest annual report: www.rcpath.org/profession/publications/annual-report.html.