Medicine 2021 kicked off with a plenary session hosted by RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard, with guests Matt Hancock MP, Prerana Issar and Professor Eleanor Riley.
The guests discussed a range of topics, including the implications the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the workforce.
Secretary of state for health and social care, Matt Hancock MP, recognised that the pandemic has led to an increase in those considering a career in the NHS, and agreed with the need to seize on this opportunity – as outlined in Double or quits, the RCP’s blueprint for expanding medical school places. On the subject of workforce flexibility, he added:
‘People have been required to work in different parts of practice, which was uncomfortable at first. Other clinicians have been taking on responsibility that they hadn’t previously. Although it’s a challenge, I think a lot of people have ended up learning more, and I hope we can hang on to some of that flexibility. Before the pandemic, the chief medical officer was very concerned to ensure that as well as super-specialists, we grow a generation of generalists, as multi-morbidity becomes more of an issue. We’ve done that through the pandemic through force of necessity, and I think that’s a really good thing.’
The session also asked guests to discuss the COVID-19 vaccination programme, including the concern about vaccine hesitancy. Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Edinburgh University, cautioned against overemphasising the impact of the anti-vaccination movement, and urged physicians to take patients’ concerns at face value:
‘The vast majority of people who have questions about vaccines are not anti-vaxxers; they’re simply people with questions. When people are sick and their clinician suggests they take a drug, they see a clear reason to do so. However, when they’re well, people need more persuasion. The questions people often have about vaccines are very pertinent and relevant. They’re asking questions simply because they don’t know, and they want answers. The way we need to approach this is to recognise that people have genuine concerns – and we have very, very good answers [to their questions].’
The Q&A’s final question asked how the NHS People Plan would adapt to the realities of the post-pandemic workforce, and Prerana Issar, head of people for NHS England, agreed that COVID-19 had widened racial disparities among healthcare workers. She explained how the next iteration of the People Plan would build on ongoing workstreams, focused on risk assessment, BAME engagement and representation. She concluded:
‘We have to be willing to get a bit uncomfortable to get the change we need … I will admit I get uncomfortable sharing that I have experienced racism and sexism in the NHS … I am often the only BAME person in a room, and the racism and sexism has been both overt and covert …. Hopefully if I share my experiences, then other people will feel confident to share theirs. We can’t brush this under the carpet. We have to talk about it, and get a bit uncomfortable.’
Inspired to find out more? Our annual conference is virtual this year and you can sign up to Medicine 2021 to watch the full presentation. We’ve extended on-demand access to all conference content until the end of April 2021. You can gain up to 16 CPD points until 7 February 2021.
Thereafter you will be able to self-accredit as independent learning.