22 December 2020

Fairytale of New York

I have managed not to swear in any of our bulletins to date, so I hope you will forgive me a small excursion to wish you “Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last1” Of course, I wish us all many more Christmases -  but please, no more like this.

I had planned to take a ‘break’ from work between Christmas and New Year. Quiet meals at home, with a rush to prepare, get the sourdough starter back into action, long walks with friends. Over the weekend, it has become gut-wrenchingly evident to me that my conviction that I really needed a break from work, was in fact a desire to have a break from reality. What on earth made me think I should be personally at liberty to enjoy myself living as part of an island nation, literally cut off from our neighbours, with a super-spreading mutant virus doing the rounds? Add the threat of food shortages and massive price hikes if  -  as it seems likely -  we end by trading with our main partner on WTO terms and we are looking forward to an uncomfortable 2021 for many people. My own personal psychodrama aside, I am well aware of the intense misery and pain being endured by many millions and the exhaustion being felt by those working in our health services, our care service and those who teach our children. Numerous other wonderful people also work extremely hard, often for poor remuneration, to help the rest of us sustain the illusion that we can continue to live comfortably by making it at least a partial reality. To hauliers, public transport workers, supermarket staff, restaurant kitchen staff, delivery drivers, taxi drivers, refuse collectors and everyone else who goes to out work daily despite the personal risk – thank you all, from the BSH.

I write this in the calm solitude of my office in a more or less vacant university building that I reached by driving through virtually empty London streets earlier this morning. The tension between the safety and the loneliness of being alone strikes me viscerally again, as it did in March this year. I think of all of our immunosuppressed patients who have been grappling with this reality well before the pandemic came along.

As ever, haematologists of all disciplines have done their very best to work within the UK health services to provide the best possible care for patients under the extraordinarily difficult and ever-changing circumstances noted herein. I am truly proud to be your colleague and I salute you all. I wish you all your own personal mini-break from reality during this decidedly unfestive season.

Twelve home for Christmas,

Eleven happy Matrons,

Ten safe transfusions2,

Nine seamless ward rounds,

Eight stop a-bleeding,

Seven remission marrows,

Six COVID negs

Five empty beds.

No new leuks,

Three thank-you notes,

Two home-made cakes

and a COVID vaccine straight in your arm.


  1. The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, Fairytale of New York, 1987, Pogue Mahone Records.
  2. Transfusion 2024 report https://www.transfusionguidelines.org/uk-transfusion-committees/national-blood-transfusion-committee/transfusion-2024 Led by Professor Cheng Hock Chair National Blood Transfusion Committee and Dr Gail Miflin Chief Medical Officer, NHS Blood and Transplant, this report is a big program of work to introduce radical change to blood transfusion.