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Psychiatry needs a boost to stem decline in research

Better integration of psychiatry with other areas of mental health research and neurosciences, more research opportunities and improved recruitment to the field at medical schools are all needed to improve the UK’s capacity for psychiatric research, says the Academy of Medical Sciences.

The academy’s report ‘Strengthening Academic Psychiatry in the UK’, published on 29 March, was produced by a working group convened in 2012 to address recent declines in recruitment to positions in academic psychiatry, and concerns that fewer trainees were pursuing careers in the field. Psychiatry was classed as a “vulnerable” academic specialty by the academy in 2009.

In its report, the working group says that there is a need for more trainee academic psychiatrists, so that the field can better compete for fellowships and clinical lectureships from research funders.

Established clinical academic psychiatrists should take the lead on supporting these trainees, the report’s authors suggest.

To help improve career pathways into academic psychiatry research, the report also calls on the National Institute for Health Research to reconsider the eligibility criteria for its clinical lecturer posts. These posts allow trainees to split their time equally between clinical training and research, and normally require applicants to hold a PhD or MD.

However, until March 2014, psychiatrists without either of these qualifications can apply for an NIHR clinical lecturer post. The report encourages the NIHR to extend this relaxation of criteria, in order to make it easier for medical graduates to move into academic psychiatry.

The report also asks the Royal College of Psychiatrists to develop a network of academic psychiatry champions, to tackle gaps in mentoring for trainees.

To improve the long-term career prospects for academic psychiatrists, the report urges universities, the government, and the NHS to collaborate on providing more senior positions.

Neuroscience centres are encouraged to improve research programmes through more collaboration, and research centres are told they must better publicise their facilities and research to aspiring academic psychiatrists.

The report calls on universities to maintain strong psychiatry departments, which it says must take a leading role in promoting psychiatry research days, summer schools and student societies, and in mentoring trainee academic psychiatrists.

Speaking at a press briefing, Simon Wessely, vice dean of academic psychiatry at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry and a member of the academy’s working group, said that, amid changes to the NHS, money was being taken out of mental health and clinical services.

He noted that, rather than front-line services, it tends to be academic posts that are cut.

Changes are needed now, he said, to ensure that the UK does not lose its global edge in mental health and psychiatry research.