As I write this month, I’m the attending consultant on our leukaemia service again. At the Hospital, we have had the same staffing problems that I am sure you have all experienced, with many clinical areas being impacted by the absence of staff who are self-isolating or who have unfortunately contracted COVID, despite receiving both doses of vaccine. Cases are rising again in our ITU and we once more have a dedicated COVID ITU. At the same time, my other workplace - the University - is obliged to dismantle the many safety checks and controls that had been in place, exactly as per government guidance. It is a very strange feeling, working in two environments that are becoming increasingly less aligned in what is acceptable and safe interpersonal interaction. This divergence reflects the many different opinions about what it is genuinely right to do for short-term safety, let alone for the larger and greater long-term good. If it’s tough to be clear even how many people should safely occupy a lift. With the answer in one of my workplaces being “one” last week and “anyone who feels like getting in” this week, how much tougher is it to decide on health policies for an entire generation? I am aware that friendships and even family relationships are hanging on personal perception of risk from COVID and, with our leadership having thrown the country back onto its own common sense, we are perhaps finding not so much common ground nor much sense. The sorts of polarisations that come from letting everyone just decide what they want to do, with seeming dismissal of collective responsibility for dealing with a very infectious communicable disease does worry me. In a country already divided by very difficult issues such as Brexit, we are at risk of ever-increasing subdivisions. We all know how easy it is to make analytical errors and reach the wrong conclusions with sub-group analyses in clinical data; so it is when there are multiple subgroups in society. We easily forget that what our subgroup is doing and feeling may be far from representative of the whole. Whilst as clinicians and scientists, we may feel we are being measured and appropriately concerned, national print media commentaries are telling the public a different tale. According to The Sun on July 27, 2021 “NOTHING has worsened the panic, misery and loss of public confidence more over the past 18 months than freelancing scientists and other politically motivated “experts” baselessly predicting catastrophe.1”
Personally, contemplating all of this makes me feel terrible. I’m reminded of some lines from Graceland:
There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I'm falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
"Whoa, so this is what she means"
Fortunately, I am surrounded in haematology by dear colleagues whose wisdom and good humour helps me to focus on what must be done every day to keep each other and our patients safe. The BSH is doing as much as possible to work with others to help us all to keep our collective feet on the pandemic ground, highlighting workforce issues in our profession, working hard to develop partnerships that will help us influence policy and to support studies of COVID vaccine responses in our patient population.
- Paul Simon “Graceland” Graceland, Warner Bros, 1986.