29 May 2020

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

“It’s sad, it’s sad, it's a sad, sad situation. And it's getting more and more absurd.”1 I would characterise my second month as president of our Society by the theme ‘sorry’.

As physicians, nurses and laboratory scientists, we are committed to working to defined standards, openly admitting when we haven’t achieved those standards, then working transparently to understand why and apologising to anyone who has suffered - even if it is not our fault and no-one is to blame. What we see reported in the media and sometimes what we observe in wider society can, at times, be a great contrast to the way we work in our professions. We sometimes see people use data incorrectly to illustrate a narrative that isn’t factually correct, fail to respond to a direct question to which the answer is known, incorrectly apportion blame to others in order to deflect from one’s own responsibilities and - for me, worst of all - failing to apologise. It can generate strong dissonant feelings watching international leaders struggle to empathise and sympathise and just feel good old fashioned sorry for and with their traumatised populations.

Historically, British people have been famous for apologising in almost every situation. The many variants of our “sorries” can be summarised as either feeling sad for someone else’s situation - even if it is only that they have experienced bad weather - or feeling regret for something that one did. Some fear that saying sorry will be perceived as an admission of defeat or weakness, but I suspect that, due to our chosen professions, most BSH members feel differently. I think most of us are both desperately sorry for entire the situation we are in and would, in addition, admit to some regrets about our own responses. One thing I have personally felt is a lack of self-worth. Although I am still functioning as a clinician and a scientist, I recognise that I am not working optimally. Sometimes, I feel that I am no longer doing anything important or relevant, even though my responsibilities have not changed. Some of that is due to external reality – my research lab, for example, remains closed and it can be very hard dealing with the complex needs of our patients by telephone. However, my personal emotional response to our reality has certainly made it harder for me to function as before.

Thankfully, dealing with BSH matters has been extremely therapeutic for me during this time. Not only do I get to interact with a wide range of wonderful colleagues but I can also see how well the BSH ‘office’ functions are working, despite the crisis. I want to personally thank Katy and all the staff for their unwavering commitment to our society. I would also like to shout out to our Treasurer, John Ashcroft who has carefully stewarded our finances during this rickety time and to Trevor Jones one of our lay trustees who negotiated the contractual matters arising from the annual meeting cancellation with great care and skill.

During the past month, the BSH has played an active role in the SARSCo-V2 recovery in several ways. We have today provided advice to combined specialities board at the Royal College of Physicians who are working with senior individuals in the Department of Health & NHS England to offer guidance about returning to a range of nonCOVID19- related work  - I am grateful to our Vice President Josh Wright for leading on this. I am also thankful to all of our colleagues who have engaged in providing education about coagulation issues during COVID-19 - in particular Beverley Hunt and Sue Pavord for their upcoming seminar on 'Obstetric Haematology: COVID-19 & pregnancy' on the 16 June and Keith Gomez for the webinar held at the start of May on 'Coagulopathy and Thrombosis in COVID-19'. Our journal, the British Journal of Haematology has also rapidly published some very helpful work on COVID19.

In other news, we have recently shortlisted lay members who will be interviewed to join our board of trustees. The large number of extremely talented non-haematology experts who applied to share their expertise with us attests to the high reputation of our organisation and I look forward to introducing our new board members to you in due course.

However, by far the most important thing I have been trying hard to do is to Stay ALert.  More than anything right now, our country needs 'Lerts'.


  1. “Sorry seems to be the hardest word” John, E. and Taupin, B. The Rocket Record Company 1976.