The importance of being at the party conferences

This week’s blog bisects a busy week for me, with BPS business taking me to Brighton, London, Edinburgh, back to London and Llandudno, and extending from Sunday morning to Saturday afternoon.

My first appointments were at the Liberal Democrat Conference. I believe it is important for us, and indeed our colleagues in the other medical Royal Colleges, to be present at these events, even if little material work is done.

At the conference of the party in power, work is appropriately delegated to official government departments, agencies and civil servants. At this year’s Labour Conference, I confidently expect ‘leadership’ to be the dominant topic of conversation. The Liberal Democrats have only sufficient MPs to fit into two taxis….

They are opportunities for personal conversations – with friends who lead work on, for example, mental health care, dementia care, the interface between health and social care, and the role of third-sector and commercial organisations in these areas. So our presence sends the message that the BPS is interested and engaged with these key issues.

So, on Sunday and Monday I had a number of such one-to-one conversations, and participated in roundtable discussions (skilfully organised by the BPS staff), ensuring that the BPS voice is heard in these circles.

In particular, I represented the BPS at two key roundtable discussions.

One was on the fall-out from Brexit, where the BPS has important concerns, shared with many professional and academic colleagues, on EU funding of research, EU students at our universities, the transferability of qualifications and professional competencies on the staffing of the NHS and social care, where a large proportion of our colleagues are EU nationals, and potentially subject to threats to their residency status).

The second was on mental health policy, where the BPS has very clear interests in promoting a psycho-social perspective, the value of psychologists themselves, the benefits of a focus on prevention as well as psychological interventions for identified problems, and the more general health benefits of a consideration of psychological aspects of care.

More detailed discussions will be had in other settings, including in all-party parliamentary groups, where we will, for example, be launching our new dementia report.

Members may also take the opportunity to participate in a couple of interesting ‘commissions’ launched at the Lib Dem Conference. Nick Clegg is leading on a new commission with the Social Market Foundation on equity in education (something I imagine will appeal to BPS members) and Norman Lamb announced a cross-party review of the future structure and funding of health and social care, with a particular focus on integration of services.

I’m only halfway through my week, so thus far I’ve had meetings of our Presidential taskforce on the training of applied psychologists in statutory settings.

This was a really positive meeting which has the potential to help us develop powerful tools for lobbying for appropriate respect for the services and skills offered by applied psychologists, a coherent model of professional training which will allow us to negotiate confidently with funders and commissioners, and the potential to grow the membership of the family of psychology and indeed the BPS itself.

We have also been talking with colleagues from NHS England about improving our recognition and capacity to hold meaningful discussions within NHS England and related bodies.

Right now… I’m off to Edinburgh, to open a conference tomorrow on how psychology can respond to the challenge of compassion in the NHS, especially highlighted by a number of recent enquiries into failings in health and social care.

That evening, I’ll be travelling back down to London for the free annual joint lecture with the British Academy and the BPS exploring the effects of stress on the brain.

On all these events. plus possible televised discussion on psychological wellbeing and mental health, and then the political fun and games at the Labour Party Conference, I’ll hope to offer more in next week’s blog.