As the first woman President of the RCOG for 64 years, it’s interesting to reflect on the changes in women’s health during that time. The health care I was trained to deliver involved waiting for a woman to develop a problem and trying to cure it. People’s views of doctors have changed over the years and there’s now much more emphasis on prevention and tackling social inequality as well as traditional medicine.
It’s so important that we harness these changes. As a group of doctors we have unique access to women over a long period of time and many of those interactions are not about ill health, but helping them do normal things like have safe sex, prevent pregnancy, get pregnant or to have a healthy later life. We are in a perfect position to share information with women about how better health care can improve their lives. During pregnancy, women are very receptive to these messages and the messages are simple – mainly around weight, alcohol abuse, drug use and smoking. There is an obesity epidemic and we have to this tackle this. Women who are overweight have many more complications in pregnancy, as well as a higher risk of illness such as heart disease, strokes and cancers. Every time there is an encounter, we have a responsibility to share information with women that will improve their lives as empowering them with this information is really rewarding and beneficial.
One way the College is aiming to reach more women is through our focus on external affairs, which has paid dividends in 2016. My aim is for the College to be the go-to place for the public, press, policy makers, politicians and professionals. Turning the College from being inward-looking to more outward-looking is hard and takes time, but we have definitely turned the tanker around. It’s great progress, but my real goal is to get to the stage where the College is asked to help formulate policy rather than being asked comment on the penultimate draft. It’s important that the policy makers recognise the skills and information we have and involve us at the building blocks stage so we can ensure we are representing and supporting our members and that women receive high-quality, evidence-based health care.
Our major clinical audit programmes and our global Leading Safe Choices project all reached milestones over the last year and it is rewarding and exciting to see them continue to develop. I am particularly proud of the fact that we have set up an abortion taskforce. There is understanding among our Fellows and Members that we need to improve the standard of care women receive in the future, and it’s good to show that the College is not frightened of taking on a difficult subject and making sure we deliver on it.
We know there are challenges ahead. One of these is workforce, as we simply don’t have enough staff and we need to find clever ways of getting around that. This is such an important issue, not just for the safety of women, but for the morale of our staff. As 80% of junior doctors in the specialty are women, we need to make sure we can support them to become mothers themselves and take maternity leave. Many of our most talented and experienced consultants are making plans to retire early because they are stressed and pressured by the workload and are not delivering the medicine they want to provide because of Government cuts. Our ‘Providing Quality Care for Women: Obstetrics and Gynaecology Workforce’ report is an important step.
To really ensure the College continues to go from strength to strength, we need to work more collaboratively in the future with other Colleges and partner organisations, sharing data and contributing to each other’s success. We also really need more of our members to get involved and engage with us. We need them to offer leadership, good practice, continuing professional development and to contribute their skills. Anyone who comes forward can be assured of a warm welcome. It’s vital that we all go on this journey together, with the ultimate aim of improving health care for women around the world.
Finally, I’d like to thank former President David Richmond for everything he achieved, along with a talented and enthusiastic team of Officers. I’m very much looking forward to carrying on this excellent work with the new Officers who came into post in September.
To really ensure the College continues to go from strength to strength, we need to work more collaboratively in the future with other Colleges and partner organisations, sharing data and contributing to each other’s success.
Lesley Regan, RCOG President