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The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health flagship meeting: is it value for money?
  1. D P Kenny1
  1. 1Department of Paediatric Cardiology, Bristol Childrens Hospital, UK;
    1. Alistair Thomson2
    1. 2Secretary, Academic Board, RCPCH, London, UK;

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      The most recent Newsletter from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) was accompanied by a call for abstracts for the 9th Spring Meeting. An article in a recent RCPCH trainee’s newsletter from the chairman of the trainees’ committee expressed disappointment at the level of attendance by trainees, and that those who did attend left almost immediately after giving their presentation. This is supported by official figures from the RCPCH1 which show the lowest number of SHO and SpR attendees at the 2004 meeting over the past six years (table 1). SpR attendances at the 2004 meeting accounted for less than one quarter of total attendees and SHO attendances for only 2%. Why is this happening?

      Table 1

       Attendance figures for RCPCH Spring Meeting 1997–2004

      I postulate that it is simply too expensive. To attend for the three full day sessions at the RCPCH meeting will cost in excess of £500. The total sum involved is in excess of most trainees’ annual study leave budget. Indeed with the financial constraints existing in most NHS trusts, study leave budgets are often not fully reimbursed, leaving trainees to supplement fees from their own pocket.

      In contrast to most other countries, no concessions are given for trainees. The Society for Paediatric Research in the United States offers significant reductions in subscription fees for their annual meeting. This concession for trainees is mirrored by flagship paediatric meetings in most European countries, including the Congrès de la Société Française de Pédiatrie, which are attended by a far greater percentage of trainees than the RCPCH meeting.

      If the RCPCH is serious about campaigning for a greater number of junior attendees at the Spring Meeting then it must follow the example of most other major paediatric meetings worldwide and offer financial concessions to the future paediatricians they are hoping to train.


      Reply by the RCPCH

      I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Academic Board. The trainee representatives on the Academic Board have taken soundings from their peers and formal approaches have been made to regional advisers, to inform our extensive discussions of these same data.

      The data above show a fall in attendance, but do not provide any evidence that the reducing attendance is because the meeting is too expensive. Indeed, during inquiries many other factors were identified—European Working Time Directive, the introduction of shift systems at middle grade, shorter training attachments at Specialist Registrar level are some—which not only have the effect of reducing and availability for visits to the Spring Meeting, but mitigated against research activities by trainees, so reducing their chance of presenting at the Spring Meeting. The growth of sub-specialty training may also be attracting trainees to specialty groups in the UK and Europe instead of the RCPCH Spring Meeting.

      The Academic Board Executive has written to RCPCH college tutors and the chairman and members of the National Association of Clinical Tutors to ensure that trainees are encouraged to attend and given study leave and funding to do so. Contrary to popular belief, the Spring Meeting does not make money for the College, even when profits from the trade exhibition are included (these latter are far smaller than abroad, because of rules about sponsorship). Indeed, the meeting runs within a very narrow margin of making a loss. The figures are published in the annual accounts. Concessions for any group would mean an increase in costs for another.

      Finally, the venue of the Spring Meeting is regularly reviewed, but there are few alternative venues, when the requirements for simultaneous sessions, technical support, accommodation, and provender are taken into account. Currently, York University offers good value and a fine setting where paediatricians, senior and junior, from the UK and abroad can meet, make and renew friendships, and exchange ideas about the scientific foundations that underpin our specialty practice.


      • Competing interests: none declared