Kate Brian was appointed as the first Women’s Voices Lead at the RCOG, and began her 3-year term in June 2016.
This lay role is responsible for leading the College’s Women’s Network and influencing the wider patient and public involvement agenda; ensuring women’s views and experiences of maternity and gynaecology services are heard.
Tell us a little about your background and how you became interested in healthcare?
I began my career as a television journalist. I worked for the BBC as a news trainee initially and then I moved to ITN and later Channel 4 News, where I worked for about 10 years. All the time I was a journalist, health was one of the areas that I covered; one of my specialisms. I was always interested in health and covered a lot of health stories as a journalist before I became a ‘patient’.
What kind of patient involvement experience do you have?
My two children were both IVF babies and when I had the treatment 20 years ago it was very difficult to find any practical information about what it was going to be like as a patient. There were books about IVF but they were all written by doctors and we didn’t have the internet at home in those days. So I wrote a book about it and then became a trustee at Infertility Network UK. When I was trying to have my second baby, I started doing more work for the charity by supporting other patients through their treatment. I was also helping to educate clinicians about the patient point of view and what it’s like from the other side of the desk.
How did you become involved in using your voice to inform the College’s work?
I initially become a member of the Women’s Network, the College’s core patient/lay group, at a time of huge change. The Network and the College had taken on a much stronger focus on engaging with the public and bringing women’s voices in. I am excited to be returning and ready to throw myself into building on the fantastic foundations that have been set, and to really make a difference.
Why is advocacy for women’s health so important to you?
I think the really interesting thing is that quite often it’s just a change of mindset that can make all the difference to how someone feels about what’s happening to them. Whatever medical treatment or procedure you’re going through, if you understand what’s happening and things are being explained properly, you feel completely different than if things are just being done to you without you being actively involved. That’s why it’s so important that we work together to empower women to speak up about what matters to them and what makes a difference.
Why is it important for the College to engage with and listen to what women have to say?
If doctors want to be good at their jobs, it’s essential that they understand how their patients feel. It’s not about making huge changes; you’re not asking people to completely change what they do, it’s often more about the way that they do it.
It enables women to say what they think and to make everyone in the Network – which is at the heart of the College’s involvement work - aware of what’s happening to women at a local level. I think it’s vital that a broad range of women from across the UK are involved, and that it doesn’t come from just a small group in London.
What is your vision for patient and public involvement at the RCOG?
I think the College is already moving very fast. Things are really changing in the way women are involved in what happens, and I would like to see that grow. I want the College to be the gold standard of patient involvement and I think we’re already heading in the right direction. It would be fantastic if we could be in a position where other areas of medicine looked to the College to see how best to do it. I also think the College is in a unique position to encourage and inspire its members to engage with patient and public involvement within their own trusts.
What are your priorities going forward?
I’m not coming in with an agenda; I’m going to listen to what women have to say and to find out what is important to them. My priority is to make sure women’s voices are heard and that women are represented throughout the College. I also want to continue supporting the great work that is ongoing. The Women’s Network project to find out the health information needs of women around the menopause has been incredibly successful, and the College, alongside its partners, has a key role to play in fulfilling the need that was identified. Also, this year the Network is keen to help the College to better understand the maternal mental health landscape through learning about women’s experiences of accessing services. This can help the College to support gaps in training and education for doctors in this area.