In this latest blog by the RCOG President, Ranee Thakar celebrates the NHS 75 birthday as well as some of the College’s important international programmes...
This month we are proud to be celebrating the 75th birthday of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). I would like to recognise the vital role each one of you play: our Fellows, Members, Trainees, Associates, and all allied healthcare professionals and NHS staff. Thank you for the tremendous job you do every day, improving the health of women, girls and people accessing care. I hope you had a moment to watch the thank you video message from the College Officers and myself.
The anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate huge progress in our specialty over seven decades. We have seen incredible innovation in obstetric, neonatal and gynaecology care, spanning diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical advances. Last year, the world’s first rapid whole genome sequencing service for seriously ill babies and children was introduced. The application of genomics, becoming an essential part of routine care from preconception, preimplantation, prenatal and postnatal genetic diagnosis, is also playing a central role in gynaecological care. Read more about the RCOG’s work around genomics.
Advances in assisted conception treatments, developments in contraception, and access to safe abortion care offer women reproductive choice that could not have been imagined when the NHS formed. These have all played an invaluable role in women’s ability to pursue education, employment and participate fully in social and political life over the last 75 years. Just this month, we also saw the publication of the Independent Pregnancy Loss Review, with recommendations on improving care and support. Read our response.
However, there is more that needs to be done and the RCOG remains committed to championing the rights of women to access healthcare. One important focus is UK abortion law reform, and in June we published a position statement with 32 other organisations setting out key principles and priorities for abortion decriminalisation. We will be working with partners, and all UK political parties, to achieve this. Recognising health professionals providing abortion care continue to face abuse, we also lobbied for the abortion clinic safe access zones introduced this year, and are proud to have produced a toolkit to help reduce stigma globally.
In March, the College published five commitments to addressing stigma and shame in women’s health services globally, and we continue our work towards these. Just this month, the UK government agreed to maintain the 72-hour detention time limit of pregnant women in the Illegal Migration Bill. This is a vital amendment, which the College has been calling for over recent months. Read our statement.
Of course, these are just a small selection of the amazing advances we have seen, which would not have been possible without your contribution. Let us take a moment to reflect on all we have collaboratively achieved.
However, I also recognise the challenges we face every day. This month, we saw further NHS industrial action, with both junior doctors and consultants striking. The RCOG recognises the right of our members and colleagues to take this action, and understands their reasons for doing so. We hope that all parties can work together to reach a negotiated settlement, for the benefit of patients, the public and all NHS staff.
Earlier this month, NHS England published the much-awaited NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. The College welcomed the plan but with some caution, recognising more detail is needed on how its ambitions will be delivered and funded. Our members are working tirelessly to manage unprecedented levels of demand with significant workforce shortages. Investment in staff recruitment and retention, better working conditions, and protected time for training and development is urgently needed. The College will continue to champion the needs of our members to inform and influence the Long Term Workforce Plan’s future delivery, through every available avenue. Read the College’s initial response to the plan.
We are proud to be a truly global College, and there are a range of important updates I wanted to share in my blog this month on our international work. I hugely enjoyed participating in our India Day on 28 June, held at our Union Street home in collaboration with the Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of India (FOGSI), the All India Co-ordination Committee (AICC) and the RCOG India Liaison Group (RILG). This event provided a unique opportunity for experts to debate and compare practices between the two continents. We look forward to forging opportunities to collaborate and innovate together in the future. The event ended with dancing, bringing a sense of connectedness and wholeness!
Based on popular demand, I am pleased to announce that the RCOG is piloting an Educational Observership Programme, open to international RCOG Fellows and Members in low and middle-income countries. There are three awards available, matching successful applicants with an RCOG-approved host site organisation for a 2–4 week placement (with a contribution towards travel and subsistence). You can find out more here.
This month, we also published the ‘Getting Back on Track’ report, making a clear case for the need for the UK Government to restore overseas development assistance funding for sexual and reproductive health (SRHR). The report includes members’ and partners’ experiences of the impact of funding cuts to overseas. The College will continue to lobby on this important issue.
I am also proud to let you know the College has been awarded consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSCOC) of the UN. This will enable us to advocate for women and girls to a greater extent by increasing our opportunity to access and influence the work of the UN. We also warmly welcomed the news that the government of Bangladesh has included the RCOG’s Gynaecological Health Matters (GHM) Programme training in its 2024 National Health Plan, which will be rolled out across 20 districts of Bangladesh – this is a programme focusing solely on gynaecological health, and I’m delighted to say, it’s a first in Bangladesh.
And of course, we held our annual RCOG World Congress in June, my first as President. It was an enormous honour for me to welcome 2,400 delegates and 135 expert speakers from across the world, in person and virtually, to learn and celebrate what is being achieved for women and girls across the world through our specialty. It was a privilege to meet so many of our members in person at Congress, and we are incredibly grateful to our speakers and contributors for sharing their time, expertise and knowledge.
Driving forward our College's response to climate change and the need for improved environmental sustainability in the O&G profession is a key priority for my term in office – learn more about our ambitions. Thank you to everyone who joined me at our online workshop to share their views on the steps we need to take to make practice within our specialty more sustainable. The findings will help us to shape an action plan encompassing the College’s work on this important issue.
Equally important to me is our focus on tackling racism and bias in the profession. It is unacceptable that racial and ethnic inequities persist in the careers and day-to-day working lives of obstetrics and gynaecology professionals, as well as in women’s health outcomes and experiences of care across their life course. We are progressing a plan of action to address this – read more about this work. I will look forward to sharing further updates with you in the autumn.
I would also like to draw your attention to the Race Health Observatory’s review of neonatal assessment and practice in Black, Asian and minority ethnic newborns. The College will now work with partners to carefully consider all of the recommendations.
Finally, I couldn’t conclude my blog without talking about the recent terrible events in Manipur, India, which have rightly caused great concern around the world. The College is committed to championing the rights of all women and girls to live free from gender-based violence, and we stand in solidarity with the women of Manipur.
I look forward to sharing my next update with you in September.
With very best wishes,
Ranee Thakar, RCOG President