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College will continue to advocate for people with mental illness at this time of crisis

President of the Irish College of Psychiatrists Dr William Flannery outlines the College’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic

These are worrying times for our patients, our families and ourselves. I believe that by our continued collaboration with each other and the wider health system, we will get through this crisis. With continued confidence in the high quality of our training, experience and professionalism, we can continue to care for our very vulnerable group of patients, our teams and ourselves.

By using the values we have as a College, the path for the College is to adapt to the crisis of Covid-19 to sustain our mission and objectives as much as possible. We will continue with the high quality of our training and ensure that our basic specialist trainees (BSTs) and higher specialist trainees (HSTs) progress to become fully-trained, confident specialists and we will hold and advocate for parity of esteem for those suffering with mental illness and disorders. I have outlined some areas below on how the College is responding and adapting during this crisis. The College website will also provide updates.

Training

The aim is to ensure we continue with progression through training to graduation. Core to this will be at key decision points, which will ensure that BSTs move into HST and that HSTs complete their training. Obviously, all of training is contingent on how the crisis evolves.

I advise trainees and trainers where possible to continue to do what you can. You should however keep the postgraduate training department informed at all times of what is not possible. Similarly, the College will do what it can, adapt and revise when it needs to, especially on those key decision points.

The Dean of Education, Dr Aoibhinn Lynch, will send an update on arrangements in due course. These arrangements are under constant review and are likely to change, so please expect further updates.

Professional competence scheme

Meeting continuing professional development (CPD) requirements is a challenge in these extraordinary circumstances and any updated guidance and flexibility from the Medical Council will be brought to your attention.

In addition to my last communication, restrictions on the number of credits you can log from online CPD in 2019/20 have been lifted, as have restrictions on the total number of internal/external CPD credits you can log from participation in CPsychI faculty meetings, committees and working groups.

Please check our website if you will struggle to meet the deadline because of Covid-19.

College activities

As you already know, the Spring Conference was cancelled, as are the ‘Hot Topics’ series of events. Faculty and committee meetings, however, can still operate through the College’s video conferencing and teleconferencing facilities if the Chair deems this is necessary. Again, look out for updates on the College’s website, as these may be cancelled in response to the current situation.

College staff

I want to pay tribute to the College staff who are striving to continue with the business of the College in very different and changing circumstances and ask for your continued patience of every department, as we cannot expect the same high level of response we usually get. Most of the team are working from home and responding to emails, with some available by phone also. Again, the website has information on how best to correspond with the team.

Useful information for rapidly-changing service delivery

The current crisis, as you know, is stretching the resources of the health service and ourselves. Due to social distancing and other practices now required, services are changing and adapting delivery of those services where necessary and possible. Psychiatry is no different. The College’s Professional Ethics for Psychiatrists can help when deciding on what is best practice for difficult choices.

The College is also developing a position paper on the use of ‘telepsychiatry’. This is still in draft form but it does provide a process on how to adapt our practice utilising tele-methods. See the draft of Telepsychiatry and its use on the College’s website, which may be of help. The Irish Medical Council outlines its appropriate use, specifically in Section 43.0, page 32 of the 2019 Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners.

The MPS has also provided an online session on remote consulting and a Medico legal aspects of tele-medicine document.

Parity of esteem for psychiatric illness

There is rightly a considerable focus on the medical management of Covid-19, but we must not neglect the mental health consequences of this crisis. The WHO has issued guidance on mental health and psychosocial considerations during Covid-19 outbreak.

The College will continue to advocate for parity of esteem for those suffering from mental illness. The life expectancy for those with severe mental illness before Covid-19 was considerably lower than that of the general population. Let us not reduce this further. Psychiatric patients should have the same access to testing, containment and treatment as other patients in the health system.

Stay safe and look after your own health as much as you can in this time of daily shifting demands and expectations. The WHO guidance is relevant to us all. With wisdom and compassion, we will get through this together.

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