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A letter from Sussex Place, July 2014

Professor Lesley Regan, Vice President for Strategic Development, writes...

Since taking up my job as Vice President for Strategic Development in March I have been finding my feet in a newly created role. My new role combines the old Treasurer’s responsibilities with the remit of promoting innovations and developments to improve healthcare for women. This has involved getting to know more about how our College works, its strengths and weaknesses, and what we need to do to move it forward strategically. Of course, this requires decisions about where we are aiming to be in the future, together with suggestions as to how we get there.

My aspiration is very simple: to establish the RCOG as the mothership – the first voice for women’s health in both the UK and the global arena. We all know that medicine used to be something done to patients by doctors and that much more is now done by patients with the help of their doctors and other influencers. Public health and preventive medicine are more important to our patients and we as a College need to adapt to this evolving environment.

This means developing a more accessible public face so that we are recognised as a College that reaches out to women, offering them guidance and lifestyle advice, effectively empowering them with the tools to look after themselves and their families. We also need to become better listeners, understanding what women want from us and promoting the activities of our expanding Women’s Network. I am delighted to be working closely with them on their Health Equity project which is looking at innovative ways to reach marginalised groups of women in our society. 

We also need to become much more effective at engaging with policy makers and Government departments both in the UK and internationally. We have to drive policy, not wait for others to set the agenda. In a new collaborative venture with the Department of Health, one of our trainees is going to work closely with the Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, for twelve months to produce a report on women’s health. The remit is to ensure that women’s health sits at the top of the priority list.

Our work on the human rights agenda went up a notch on International Women’s Day (8 March 2014) when we welcomed 200 people to the College for an all day workshop where attendees were introduced to the Human Rights Checklist that we have developed in partnership with FIGO. A month later at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, it was heartening to discover a real enthusiasm for joint working with the RCOG to achieve something worthwhile on the Women’s Health and Human Rights agendas. I believe these collaborative links with ACOG and FIGO can be more effective for us and that we can enhance our links with other health care professionals at home.

However, as Lord Ara Darzi told us at the recent senior staff conference:

“Innovation is not about new or more resources. It is usually about using existing materials differently”.

Our first unused resource is our own membership. RCOG Vice President of UK Affairs, Ian Currie, has recently conducted some work, revealing that 62% of our Fellows and Members have little or nothing to do with the College. This is an opportunity as well as a challenge to us because the College will be a richer and more effective place if we involve all of our members in our work.

We need a step change in our approach to communications, with far more members taking a more proactive media role. If we are to do our best as advocates for women’s health, we have to make more efforts to find and promote our most effective communicators. They need to go to where women are, finding out what they’re listening to, reading and watching. This will also influence policy-makers and opinion formers, the intermediaries who affect what our patients do.

At the same time Fellows and Members have expressed the need for the holder of this VP position to keep a careful watching brief on the finances of our College, now that the Board of Trustees rather than the RCOG Council has responsibility for signing off the accounts. We are facing two major financial pressures at present, the pensions deficit and the shortening life of the lease at Sussex Place. It is reassuring that our Executive Director of Resources, Fred Emden, has both situations firmly in hand, but we will also need to adapt our long term strategy to resolve them. It is a complex and exciting agenda!