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Monthly blog from RCOG President

Blog 15 March 2021

Dr Eddie Morris writes to the membership…

Dr Eddie MorrisI hope I am not tempting fate by writing about entering another phase of the pandemic but as I write this it is clear from messages I am getting from you and the slow return of ‘normal’ work in my own Trust that things are starting to change for the better again.

I am genuinely impressed by the national vaccination effort. I was lucky to be amongst the first to receive my first dose just before Christmas and it is now amazing to think that this week the UK will have given at least one dose to about 30% of its total population. This makes the UK the third highest vaccinated country in the world, behind Israel (94%) and UAE (61%). This enormous effort has definitely come with a strong sense of team spirit and I am delighted to hear that so many RCOG Fellows, Members, Trainees and Associates have helped the vaccination effort. One of us I know also enrolled their teenage daughters in to help marshalling at a vaccination centre!

Of course, our sense of team hasn’t just been in our approach to vaccination through this pandemic. It has been the thousands of you in the UK and around the world who have helped in ways that you were not expecting: gynaecologists retraining in maternity, trainees and trained doctors working extra shifts on critical care, being part of ‘proning’ teams, or merely doing extra work and being available – the list goes on. What this shows is we have a flexible and willing workforce and colleagues who have shown and continue to show how prepared they are to help their countries out of the destruction that COVID-19 has wrought.

Much as I wrote in the summer of 2020, I do not foresee that we will ever go back to pre-pandemic ‘normality’. We all yearn for that in our home lives but in our work lives we will undoubtedly need to continue to learn from the pandemic and use that to shape the future of our corner of healthcare.

What I particularly wanted to cover this month is ourselves and the need to recognise the importance of having insight into the personal and human needs we have as we enter this next phase. I also wanted to highlight the fact that we should look out for our colleagues too.

My impression is that if we were each to be compared to our pre-pandemic selves, we would be pretty worried that we now look over-worked, over-stressed and, for many of us, close to burnout. We need to rest, recuperate and refresh, and yet somehow, we are also expected to ramp up activity. There is a tension here that medical leaders recognise and the solutions are not obvious. I personally feel that if we could find a way to work as an effective team to go the extra mile during the intense waves of the pandemic we should now capture that spirit now and repurpose it.

We should use that spirit to overcome old differences, support each other to get the rest that we need and respect that we all share the same need for personal recovery. I also hope that the leaders amongst you feel able to recognise the stresses your teams have experienced during the pandemic. Please show that you value them as you support them during their recovery. You will be surprised that even the smallest acts of kindness or words of thanks will go a long way to help people feel better.

We have all made sacrifices during the pandemic. Most have been made voluntarily. Sadly, due to coronavirus, some have been made in the line of duty. Last week I spoke to the wife of one of us who has suffered horrendously from the consequences of COVID-19. Both he and his wife are young O&G professionals and he has devoted enormous time to working for the RCOG. He has suffered life changing disabilities as a result of his infection and sadly will never be able to work again. He has shown immense pride and fortitude through his illness and he and his family continue to do so.

What really struck me is the fact that because the vast majority of his family are overseas it is practically impossible for them to travel to support him and his wife at home, or even share those simple yet vital things like a hug or even just being in the same room. This reminded me of the fact that we should all recognise the additional strains that the pandemic has placed on so many families with aged, sick or lonely relatives living hundreds or thousands of miles away. As a College we have recently supported the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin in a letter to the UK Government on urgent legislation that will allow elderly relatives to be reunified with their family who are settled in the UK.

A specific issue which has been taking up a great deal of my attention in recent weeks is COVID-19 vaccination and pregnancy, as we seek to ensure proper recording of all vaccinations in pregnant women to allow monitoring and review. I am delighted to announce that on Wednesday 10 March the RCOG and the Royal College of Physicians of London co-hosted a webinar exploring the various issues around COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy. If you weren’t able to join us, you can watch the recording for free for 60 days from 10 March, by registering on the RCP website.

Secondly, I wanted to bring to our SAS/LED community the important news that two new SAS doctor contracts are awaiting the outcome of a referendum of BMA SAS doctors in England. The referendum in Wales closed on 1 March. If they are agreed in England, the new posts will come into effect from 1/4/21. The referendum is open until 15.3.21. There is also to be the creation of a new senior SAS Specialist Doctor post for which eligible senior Specialty doctors will be able to apply, which I really hope will not only raise the profile of SAS doctor careers as an attractive and viable alternative to a career as a consultant but will also improve retention within the specialty and morale within the SAS grade.

I really hope over the coming weeks you are able to start to work together in your pre-pandemic teams again – this time with the added focus on looking after each other to recover from whatever has happened to you since the pandemic began. Support each other to rest and get stronger, recharge your batteries because we all know we’ve got quite a job to do.