The headline quote about the BPS comes from a senior and experienced clinical psychologist – and it sums up pithily our concerns about the Society and how it fails its members. Although not the author of that statement, Sarajane Aris, who is a former Director of Policy of the DCP, has been a Head of a clinical psychology service in the NHS and is a former Associate of the Care Quality Commission has experienced similar frustrations with the BPS. She has felt it necessary, but with considerable reluctance, to write to the Charity Commission with her concerns, in order to effect some change. With her permission, we summarise the main points of her letter below.
1. Lack of timely Professional Guidance for practitioners.
When the commissioning of NHS clinical psychology services was transferred from Primary Care Trusts to new Commissioning bodies, clinical psychologists needed timely and informed advice as how to approach these unfamiliar organisations and demonstrate the value of clinical psychology. A group of committee members on the Division of Clinical Psychology Leadership and Management (L&M) Faculty prepared this guidance in 2009, in readiness to be used by the new groups. This included important information as to how they could show the effectiveness of the delivery of clinical psychology services and save commissioners money at various points on a variety of care pathways. It was crucial that this guidance was available to service heads and directors in advance of the formal take over of responsibilities by the commissioners in 2010. This took on an additional significance given the loss of senior posts in the profession at that time. This guidance was not published by the BPS until 2015. Thus an important document was not available in time for our profession due to delays created by the numerous BPS committees and other internal processes before sign off. Five senior and experienced psychologists worked hard – and at no cost to the BPS – to produce a document in time to have impact, and yet it took 5 years to go through the BPS before formal publication. Too late to be of any real use.
The DCP had set up a mentoring website in 2016 through the L & M Faculty, following on from a successful pilot scheme. Unwillingness on the part of the BPS management and administration to take on the running of the website meant that the scheme faltered. It is now in its third iteration because of failures by the BPS to take on responsibility for it. This has resulted in significant delays and extra work – again given freely by committed volunteer members of the BPS. Contrast this to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, whose scheme has been up and running since 2015.
3. The Universal Declaration.
The Universal Declaration of Ethical Principles for Psychologists is one of the seven Declarations of the International Union of Psychological Sciences (of which the BPS is a National Member). It was referred to the L & M Faculty for review in 2015. This group suggested that Principle 2 be amended to include the concept of compassion. A great deal of work and effort by various people went into making the case for such a change which was supported by the then President. Clearly, such a change could only be put forward by the BPS itself. At this stage, it was sent to various committees and sub-committees within the Society and its sub-systems. The result of this toing and froing between the various groups was that the inclusion of compassion wasn’t something the BPS could support and no further action would be taken. Sarajane notes
I spent considerable time and effort attempting to move this forwards. I tried to pursue it throughout 2016 with emails, only to hear nothing. To be honest, at that point I gave up, as I had turned my attention to another project for the DCP.
4. DCP Policy Director role.
In working in this role,
… I was often cut across by the BPS Policy Director with no attempt at collaboration, consultation or aligned working. This created unnecessary delays, confusion and lack of clarity leading to ineffective outcomes...
The above catalogue of organisational failure should give us all cause for concern. There are clearly serious issues in the system which result in, not simply failure and frustration on the part of hard-working volunteer members of the BPS, but also in lack of support and guidance for those working in practice. Sarajane puts it well in the penultimate paragraph of her letter to the Charity Commission. She notes that she has given
..12 years of significant input and services to the DCP/BPS, in order to make a real difference and positive impact for our profession…
but this has had
…little positive and impactful outcome. The BPS itself, through their processes and procedures, have prevented significant work from succeeding and impacting. I might go as far as saying hindering impactful change. In my view this has serious implications, and indicates we have a failing professional body…
which is not acting as
…an effective professional body and being an authentic and transparent learned Society.
This is a sorry judgement from a senior and highly committed psychologist who, after exploring all options available to her within the BPS, felt the need to raise her concerns with the Charity Commission. Just what will it take for the BPS to realise that, as an organisation, it is failing both its members and the public?