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Officers' update, October 2015

Dr Clare McKenzie, Vice President for Education, writes...

The Government’s new contract proposals for junior doctors in England, has been a great concern over recent weeks and the debate continues across national headlines. Trainees feel disheartened and undervalued, and there is the risk that this will discourage young doctors from entering the specialty resulting in significant recruitment difficulties and subsequent patient safety concerns. These feelings are not unique to trainees with retention and attrition at consultant levels also concerning. There has been the failure to consider the already difficult working conditions in our labour wards whereby individuals are considering early retirement. The NHS needs to invest in our workforce and support our staff, not discourage recruitment, innovation and integration between healthcare professionals. The proposals coming so soon after the Kirkup report into Morecambe Bay appear short sighted and contradictory. We will be working closely with the BMA and Government on proposals for how we can address the problem of staff shortages and issues of recruitment and retention in the specialty.

The findings of a survey by the Royal College of Midwives suggested that maternity units are facing unprecedented challenges as a historically high birth-rate, increasingly complex births, and a serious shortage of midwives in England piles pressure on services. Stretched and understaffed maternity services affect the quality and safety of care provided to mothers and babies, and restricts the choices available to women. The RCOG has recommended increased consultant and midwifery presence for some time with further investment in midwifery and obstetric services to ensure that women have access to comprehensive services from pre-conception to motherhood.

In addition to providing safe services for patients we must provide safe working environments for ourselves. I am passionate about tackling undermining and bullying behaviours in our profession. A culture of undermining and bullying has been, and continues to be a prevalent concern within the NHS. Both the RCOG and the RCM are committed to addressing this and we are doing all we can to help our trainees and members. We have developed a joint web-based undermining toolkit, which provides doctors and midwives with practical advice and examples of the action they should take when they encounter bullying and undermining in the workplace. The RCOG has also developed an eLearning package – which is now freely available on our website and available to all professionals. We strongly encourage all of our members to make use of these excellent resources – each and every one of us has a part to play in stamping out bad behaviour across our profession.

Lastly, a topic which frequently makes headlines and is particularly relevant in our specialty is obesity. Since 1993, obesity has increased from 16.4 percent to 25.1 percent in women in the UK. Recently published figures from the World Obesity Federation estimate that two thirds of Britons will be overweight or obese by 2025. As we know, it is a risk factor for many health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. It also affects a woman’s reproductive health and increases the risks in pregnancy. We continue to call on the Government to invest in promoting healthy policies, communities and behaviours in the whole population, including women before they become pregnant, to prevent ill health in future generations. We can also play a key role as healthcare professionals in promoting healthy lifestyle advice and encouraging women to become more active.