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Monthly blog from RCOG President

Blog 19 January 2021

Dr Eddie Morris writes to the membership…

Dr Eddie Morris We all know that the position we find ourselves in now as healthcare professionals is much worse than that which we experienced during the first wave last year. Our day-to-day lives are full of change and challenge to a degree that has removed from most of us the sense of routine. Some of us will find this difficult and some will thrive in this environment.

My personal opinion is that we are all being exposed to unknowns that we have never experienced before, and these cause us all stress and worry. You will have relied on bodies such as the Government and the RCOG, your College, to help you through the pandemic. Our Guidance Cell continues to review data and produce clinical guidelines and information for women, keeping these as up to date as possible in the shifting sands of the environments we live and work in.

Decisions have sometimes had to be made during the pandemic where there is little evidence behind them, or have had to be made hurriedly in response to a crisis. We usually strive to practise evidence-based medicine and so it is unsettling when there is rapidly changing or limited underpinning evidence available. The arrival of the coronavirus vaccines seems to be the one piece of good news amongst this crisis. However, the roll-out of the vaccine has not been without its problems. I know many of you are still to receive your first dose. I had mine recently and this week received a call postponing the second dose I was scheduled to have.

I have been contacted by many of you about the lack of evidence around the decision to delay the second dose of the vaccine and I share your concerns. On your behalf, at meetings with the CMO and National Medical Director for England I asked the questions that some of you sent me. I asked and was given assurance that the second dose would be given at 12 weeks and that the second dose would be of the same vaccine type. This week I also asked about monitoring of healthcare professionals during the extended period between doses as I feel there is an obligation for it to be done. As you may recall from a previous blog I am a recruit to the SIREN study which sends me a fortnightly questionnaire, a nasal swab every 2 weeks and a blood sample for antibodies monthly. I was reassured by PHE that the study protocol is being amended to allow for this monitoring.

The other area of major concern that contributes to my personal stress as your President is the serious problem facing O&G teams around the country, including mine here in Norwich, of the looming and in many cases very real threat of redeployment of the maternity workforce. Over the Christmas period via messages from you I became aware that in some Trusts preparations were under way and I worked with the National Medical Director for England to try to ensure that the maternity workforce was one of the last to be redeployed, if at all.

We do have to accept that in a completely COVID overloaded hospital, we can’t reasonably refuse all requests for help and we have to play our part in the staffing response. But there has to be a sense of balance and a sense of priority, along with easy ways to get our workforce back as soon as they are no longer needed or if there is a staffing crisis in the maternity team. The RCM and RCOG have written to the National Medical Director for England and the UK Chief Nursing Officer to this extent, and will shortly also be writing to all Trust and Health Board CEOs to make these points. Fundamentally, it is vital that you feel that you can deliver a safe service, and that you make sure that if you have concerns you share them in an open fashion with your managers. I do still want to hear from you if you feel you are not being listened to.

As a final point, I was also pleased to see the letter to Trusts from NHS England & Improvement earlier this week regarding revised timelines and additional information in relation to the urgent actions requested of all maternity services in response to the Ockenden review. While it is vitally important that we learn the lessons from Ockenden and act accordingly, it is important that the pressure services are currently under is appreciated, and I received several messages from members asking for the College’s assistance, which I then raised with NHSE/I who have now issued revised deadlines.

The College really is here for you. There are some things we can do to help and if we can, we will. We may all have to be part of decisions and do things that we never dreamt of even a year ago. I wish you the very best in all that you over the coming weeks but most of all I would like to thank you for continuing to go above and beyond.