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Monthly blog from RCOG President

Blog 15 December 2020

Dr Eddie Morris writes to the membership…

Dr Eddie MorrisThis week marks the one-year anniversary of my inauguration as President as well as the team of Officers – Ranee Thakar, Jo Mountfield, Sue Ward, Tim Draycott and Pat O’Brien. Writing it seems so easy but living the past year for all of us, everywhere, has been like no other.

Friends, colleagues, past Presidents and Vice Presidents frequently say to us, “This isn’t what you signed up for, is it?”. They are, of course, quite correct but I have started answering by thanking them for their concern but following with “I don’t completely know what I signed up for”. I do know I signed up to support and drive the RCOG’s mission statement “The RCOG works to improve women’s healthcare across the world”. As you know I have priorities which I have been able to start work on despite the pandemic and these are making progress. Fundamentally, though, we all signed up to deal with anything that came our way and that is what I believe we are doing.

As you will know, maternity safety is of ongoing public, media and policy interest, with a particular focus at the moment. Many of you will have read the interim report by Donna Ockenden into maternity services at Shrewsbury and Telford, which provides recommendations for improving maternity safety. The report makes for sometimes distressing reading and, as you will see from our joint response with the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), we are committed to playing our part in implementing the learning from the review. In addition, this week I will be giving evidence alongside Gill Walton, CEO of the RCM, at the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s inquiry on maternity safety. I intend to highlight the fact that both Colleges and their members will work together to provide the solutions. Two excellent examples currently based at the RCOG are the project Each Baby Counts: Learn and Support and the impressive work of the Tommy’s National Centre for Maternity Improvement. Other areas we intend to concentrate on will be the forthcoming launch of the Locum Competency Framework and our plans to support units in difficulty.

The work of our Race Equality Taskforce is well under way with some great involvement of Fellows, Members and Trainees. Our work has attracted the attention of Government and I am hopeful that this will mean that we can start to have meaningful influence and drive down inequalities. We are also starting to gather information around workforce experiences to tackle inequalities faced by our Fellows, Members and Trainees. We are aware that there is a tremendous amount of work going on nationally and internationally, and we are very interested in learning from you. Please send us details highlighting the aim of any projects you are involved with and share with us actions you have put in place and how you are measuring outcomes.

Last week I attended a meeting of the RCOG Abortion Taskforce. This is the taskforce that has worked tirelessly, together with the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, to support UK abortion services during the pandemic. They have not only maintained services during a very challenging period but have also significantly improved accessibility. We have also had renewed interest in the Advanced Skills Module (ASM) in Safe Practice in Abortion Care, which can be undertaken by NTN holders (ST6 and above) in advanced training, non-training grades and post-CCT holders.

The palpable sense of excitement that has come with the possibility of effective vaccination solutions for COVID-19 is everywhere as I write this blog. I have just heard an excellent interview in which the President of the Royal College of General Practitioners answered questions ranging from whether GP surgeries in the UK had the ability to deliver the vaccine to whether the system had the capacity to do it. My personal reflection on the news about a vaccine last week led me to gather a small group of both academic obstetricians and midwives to join me in a letter to the Prime Minister to lobby for the UK to be one of the centres for research into pregnancy and COVID-19 vaccination.

For years pregnant women have been excluded from research that could make a real difference. This affects nearly 1 million women in the UK every year. I believe the UK is uniquely placed with the dozens of NIHR teams across the UK who could jump into action to be part of what could be a globally vital research programme. Let’s see what Number 10 say!

While the RCOG continues to develop its digital meeting offerings, I wanted to bring to your attention one of my favourite meetings of the year. This is the RCOG Annual Academic Meeting incorporating the Blair Bell Research Society, a meeting of academics at all levels and one where it is entirely possible for an enthusiastic medical student or trainee to bump into leading Professors to pick their brains. Details can be found below and I’d like to draw your attention to the early bird discount. I hope that, by making this a more affordable course, we can for the first time ever have attendees from around the globe.

Since I wrote to you last month it is hard to believe the difference in the healthcare landscape around the UK. So many things seemed to be on the horizon but the cautious amongst us would not have dared hope that we could be in a position where we were able to have widespread lateral flow testing for frontline staff, nor would we be so close to a national rollout of a mass vaccination programme. I really do feel that we could be about to start returning to some sort of normality. I hope very much that wherever you are in the world you are able to stay well as we approach the festive period.