‘Psychiatry is the most exciting and fun speciality of medicine’

Psychiatry is the most exciting and fun speciality of medicine, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) stated yesterday.

Professor Dinesh Bhugra was commenting on a “catastrophic” situation whereby only one in 10 newly-qualified psychiatrists are UK graduates.

Medical graduates who opt for psychiatry as their career must, during their six-year training, pass postgraduate RCP exams. This year, of the 519 candidates who sat the first postgraduate RCP exam sitting, only 64 (12 per cent) were UK graduates – a record low. The next sitting is in October.

Last year, incorporating both exam sittings, the totals were 230 UK graduates from 1,043 examinees; in 2007 it was 257 from 1,491, in 2006 it was 315 from 1,515; and in 2005 it was 388 from 1,372. The figures highlight the falling competition for psychiatry training places.

Around 400-500 psychiatry posts have to be filled in the NHS each year. Most psychiatrists employed from overseas come from India and West Africa.

The government points out that its investment in mental health has resulted in 64 per cent more consultant psychiatrists compared to 1997.

But in a bid to recruit more UK psychiatrists, Prof Dinesh Bhugra said: “The message to UK graduates is that this is most exciting and fun speciality in medicine.

“Where else would you use cinema, theatre, literature, neurosciences, psychology, sociology and anthropology to pull it all together? But a lot students and junior doctors are being put off for various reasons.”

A Channel 4 report yesterday warned of a shortage of UK psychiatrists and a significant drop in the quality of trainee psychiatrists.

Prof Robert Howard, dean of the RCP, said: “Catastrophic is the word I would use for the shortage we are now facing. We have always struggled to recruit significant numbers but this year is particularly acute.

“It has got to the point where you can count the number of UK doctors coming into it in tens, when we have hundreds of training posts to fill.

“The doctors who are coming in from overseas to work in the UK: some are brilliant, and our president is a shining example. This is not being racist or unpleasant. But many of them [overseas doctors] have difficulties with communication and the nuances of the UK’s culture. And if there is a speciality where it is essential to know the culture, it is psychiatry. There needs to be a balance.

“Overall, because of the lack of competition, we are giving jobs to some people who are ‘appointable’ but certainly not people who it fills our spirits to have given jobs to.

“The fact that we have to make a decision about the minimum standard cut-off point for potential ‘appointability’, and that we feel relieved when we find sufficient people who just scrape over this is damning enough.”

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