Kallur Suresh: Psychiatry at the forefront of science

Generation Q 12 June 2012I recently attended the 2015 International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Birmingham. It was one of the largest gatherings of psychiatrists from the UK and many other countries. It attracted around 2500 delegates who came to learn from its scientific programme, present their work, and network with other professionals. I was genuinely impressed by the quality of its academic content and its slick organisation. The theme of the congress was “Psychiatry at the Forefront of Science.”

First, a few words about its organisation. The congress fully exploited the digital technology platform. The congress app could be used to call up any information about the programme and to give feedback on sessions. Delegates could personalise their schedules to their needs. E-posters were displayed on large, interactive screens. It was remarkable to see how the use of technology had removed many of the usual hassles and barriers to a great experience of the meeting. Attendees used Twitter to get messages out in real time. Online conversations very much added to the variety and buzz around scientific discourse. The power of social media to set the agenda and create virtual conversations was in clear display. It made it easier for people outside the congress to get a taste of the proceedings.

There were many thought provoking and inspiring keynote talks, one from a social scientist with a physical disability looking at the implications on mental health of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It highlighted the benefits (such as access to services) and disadvantages (such as stigma and discrimination) of getting a diagnosis. Another keynote address on violence and mental illness attempted to bust the myth that mentally ill people are significantly more dangerous than the general population, noting that up to 95% of violent acts are committed by persons without serious mental disorders. A third keynote address looked at the cutting edge of research on the biology of ageing and how interventions can prevent neurodegeneration.

Simon Stevens, The Chief Executive of NHS England, gave his view on future directions for the UK National Health Service. The message was somewhat sober, predicting a tough few years for the NHS with increasing demand on the health service, mainly due to increasing longevity and an ageing population, but also flatlining funding because of constraints on the public purse. The Minister of State for Community and Social Care, Alistair Burt MP, made his first policy speech, reassuring the audience that mental health is high on the current government’s agenda and reiterating its commitment to achieving Parity of Esteem for mental health. Mental health waiting times will be introduced later this year and patients referred for psychosis will be expected to be seen within two weeks, like cancer patients. He announced that the provision of mental health services for children and young people will be a priority for the newly elected government.

Finally, I attended a really moving and thought provoking presentation on providing comprehensive community mental healthcare in the southern Indian state of Kerala. It is a voluntary endeavour run by a UK trained psychiatrist and could serve as a model of mental healthcare delivery for resource scarce settings (Mental Health Action Trust). It is a truly community service, funded by the community and by charitable donations, that uses trained volunteers to case find and treat common mental and neurological disorders (such as epilepsy). I was struck by how a willingness to do something is often all that is required to make it happen, no matter how adverse the circumstances, in the form of poor infrastructure, lack of professionally trained workforce, and abject poverty. Some of the operational principles of this model have the potential to inform a resource constrained NHS. The need for innovation and creativity is paramount if we have to make the most efficient use of the resources we have.

Kallur Suresh is a consultant psychiatrist and area medical director in the specialist dementia and frailty service at the North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust. He is a GenerationQ fellow at the Health Foundation.

Competing interests: I have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: I am a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and a member of the Executive Committee of its Eastern Division.