President’s column November 2015

Jamie Hacker Hughes writes.

Our main theme for November is drawn from the anniversary of the attempt by one Guido Fawkes to bring the then system of British democracy to an abrupt end. As we all now know and celebrate annually on Bonfire Night, that attempt was singularly unsuccessful and now we have not just one Parliament but two, with two further Assemblies.

The end of September and the beginning of October was Party Conference season and along with your Vice President Peter Kinderman, and the Society’s Policy Advisor on Legislation, Tanja Siggs, we have covered the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative events between us. This was an extremely successful exercise. Politicians of all flavours genuinely seem interested in what psychology, psychologists and the BPS have to say, and at all three conferences we were able to meet with and brief Ministers and their Parliamentary Shadows in both Houses on a number of initiatives that the Society is pressing at the moment: parity of esteem between psychological and physical healthcare, the inadequacies of the current system for workplace capability assessment and related concerns about coercive practices (and the potential role that the Society could play on advising on all these issues), and the briefing papers that the Society has produced on behaviour change.

Politicians are very keen to be briefed on current issues of importance to psychology so that they can be prepared to table written and oral questions, sponsor debates and campaign on important matters. All parties have Members of Parliament who have a background in psychology or a particular interest in it. For instance, Sarah Champion (Rotherham) the new Labour Shadow Minister for Preventing Abuse, is a psychology graduate, as is the Labour Shadow Prisons Minister Jenny Chapman (Darlington), while Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) the payday loans campaigner and runner-up in the campaign for Labour Deputy Leader, has a PhD in social psychology. Dr Lisa Cameron, the SNP member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, is a clinical psychologist; the Liberal Democrat former MP Don Foster was a psychology graduate; and Tracey Crouch, the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford, regularly speaks out on mental health issues. It has been good too that over the past few months I have been able to go to Westminster to meet with members of both Houses and discuss a number of issues with all of them. Politicians are therefore ever more open to being kept informed about psychological developments; channels of communication are already open, and developing continuously.

We began with Westminster and Guy Fawkes, but our BPS Scotland Branch is highly engaged with the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, and our Welsh and Northern Irish Branches are also well linked into the Assemblies in Cardiff and Stormont respectively. In Wales the Society’s work on suicide prevention was recently referred to by Plaid Cymru Member Elin Evans in the Welsh Senedd, and questions are regularly asked on issues of psychological health in the Assembly. In Scotland there is continuing work following on from last year’s Parliamentary Event run by the Neuropsychology and Forensic Divisions and, after the event, the National Prisoner Healthcare Network set up a work stream to examine how brain injury issues fit in with healthcare and rehabilitation programmes in the criminal justice system. A report on this is expected next year and the Scottish Branch plans to hold a reception to cover this, together with the BPS position paper on children and young people in the criminal justice system. Also, there has been good coverage of Cross Party Groups, Jacqueline Wilson presented on her clinical work at the Expert Parliamentary Group on Dementia, and the Branch hopes to link the BPS work on dementia to feed into development of Scotland’s Third Dementia Strategy. Finally, in Northern Ireland the most important item on the policy agenda this year has been the Mental Capacity Bill which is now in the committee stage in the NI Assembly. From the consultation on the Mental Capacity Bill, a briefing paper was prepared in readiness for the Bill now making its way through the Assembly, circulated to all members of the Health and Justice Committee, and the Branch was very recently invited to give evidence to that committee on specific clauses in the Bill. Also, a briefing paper on Sexual and Gender Minorities and Talking Therapies was launched at the ‘Psychology for Society Seminar Series’ at the Branch’s 2015 Annual Conference in Armagh, which I attended. Subsequently Alliance MLA, Trevor Lunn, who also attended the seminar in Armagh, announced that he had changed his voting position on possible same-sex marriage legislation from abstaining to a positive vote when next it comes to be debated at the NI Assembly and attributed his changed position to the influence of the NIBPS seminar. In June the NI Assembly Officer facilitated Stormont meetings between members of the BPS policy team, the Branch Chair and MLAs from all political parties and their policy advisers with the purpose of identifying emerging priorities for the political parties as they go into an election year next year. Also, in collaboration with the policy team, NIBPS is now preparing a list of BPS Key Priorities for NI Elections, to be launched at a forthcoming event in Stormont on 30 November. 

We are still right in the middle of the review of our Society’s structure, but a theme that came out particularly strongly in this summer’s consultation was that policy, and support for policy, are hugely important issues and that there is a need for a much larger and better resourced national policy team as well as significantly developing and resourcing the Society’s policy functions in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and England. The issues of the presence, visibility, voice and impact of psychology are highly important ones, not just for me but, from the numerous conversations that I have had with members, to many, many others as well. The Board of Trustees, at its September meeting, voted to prioritise Strategic Objectives 3 (maximising the impact of psychology on public policy) and 4 (increasing the visibility of psychology and public awareness) for particular attention over the coming year, together with Strategic Objective 1 (promoting the advancement of the knowledge base of psychology and its practice through support for research, education and professional training).

If we are going to be able to deliver here, however, I believe that we shall need, as informed by the Structural Review, to consider how we are organised and resourced in order to be best placed to deliver against these objectives and  to communicate the outputs from psychological research, education and professional training in the best possible way that we can. This may well require a London-based policy team and a revived post of Parliamentary Officer to capitalise on our existing relationships with Westminster, with similar teams operating from Branch offices in close proximity to Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont.

We cannot, however, do all this by ourselves. We are already a member of the ‘We need to talk’ Coalition, along with several other consumer and provider organisations in psychological healthcare, including Mind, Rethink, Young Minds and other professional organisations such as BACP (the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) and the RCGP and  RCPsych (the Royal Colleges of General Practitioners and Psychiatrists). The Trustees also agreed in September that we should enter into a new collaborative framework agreement with BACP, the BPC (the British Psychoanalytic Council) and the UKCP (the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy) on matters of mutual policy interest. These coalitions, agreements and other relationships are very important, and we are also regular signatories to letters to the broadsheets on matters of national importance as well as making regular press statements and news releases on them too.

Meanwhile, Society business goes on as usual, including our very own ‘Parliament’, the General Assembly, who met this year in Leicester for our annual meeting. There has been a strong call through the Structural Review for this type of body to be a truly democratic structure with more ‘teeth’ and with a much greater role in policy and decision making. Let’s see what the process produces as it continues throughout the next year.

November is, of course, also a time of remembrance and so the other theme of this month’s column concerns psychologists working in, or with, the uniformed services. There has been a considerable canon of psychological research developed over several years on those working in the ambulance, fire and police services as well as with serving and veteran members of the Armed Forces. This is another sphere where psychology has so much to contribute and it seems timely that one of the potential new Sections going through the stages of formation is a Defence and Security Psychology Section (the other is a new Cyberpsychology Section). It is so good that the Society continues to develop and expand, with more and more members joining every week, a new East Midlands Branch that has just been approved and a proposal for a new East of England Branch too.

So – lots happening. Have a good November!

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