As we ‘turn and face the strange changes’1, I did not conceive that I would mark the start of my 2-year term as President of our Society by deleting from my calendar all of the talks, meetings and dinners that I had so looked forward to attending at the BSH Annual Scientific Meeting. Despite my casual demeanour, I am the sort of person who always keeps a decent stock of loo roll and rice in the shed, because … “you never know”. My favourite homily centres on how relatively lucky and safe my comparatively well-to-do generation of Western Europeans has been. Although recent events had already suggested that complacency about our continuing good fortune was no longer in order, even my most melodramatic musings completely failed to conjure a shred of the immediate impact of dealing with a pandemic. I now know that disaster planning procedures in no way prepare us for how we are going to feel.
On the afternoon when it was announced that my university building would close, I instinctively saved one of my lab’s PCR machines from collection by the army for virus testing, in order to maintain any capacity for us to monitor MRD for adult patients with ALL. I also insisted that my university made the MRD lab staff key workers. At the time, although I observed myself acting decisively, the basis for my actions felt shiveringly emotional. I only barely intellectually comprehended the finely balanced choice between placing all our resource into one battle at the risk of losing the overall fight to give all of our patients the best possible care. Those types of risk versus benefit decisions will continue to occupy most of us for the foreseeable future. It is my hope that whilst we remain morally driven, we can be increasingly intellectually guided in what we do. I strongly commend data collections and careful analyses and we will look to support the best of these though our grant schemes.
Since the day I saved my PCR machine’, my mind has endlessly flipped back and forth through matters of patient care, the health of family and friends, the need to support my lab - whose work could be at risk due to funding cuts - and the newly heavy, wearisome concerns of safely and fairly living a much-contracted daily life. As April wore on, I added a new rising panic: how to be a fit and proper leader for our Society in such times and how to write this address without clichés.
I have been greatly emboldened in my resolve by the strong and thoughtful leadership example provided by Cheng-Hock Toh, our immediate past president, whose efforts left our Society in such a stable and coherent position that we can face our uncertain future from a solid base. I extend to him my sincere gratitude for all he has done and for the careful and thorough handover. I regret that I am not able to pay appropriate tribute to him in person at the ASM. I also thank Anne Parker, who completed her term as Secretary with her customary flair and impeccable, unflappable attention to detail. I further highlight the fabulous work done by Tamara Everington to organise a really exciting ASM much of which I hope can be re-invigorated in some form next year. Finally, I thank our Vice President Josh Wright, all of the BSH SIG members, guideline writers, committee members, trustees and staff of the BSH, capably led by Katy Amberley. I take great heart that we are dealing with this together.
To re-orientate myself when dealing with head-spinning problems, I try to refer to basic principles, so I looked once again at the mission of the BSH, which has been “Bringing haematology professionals together since 1960 to transform the care our members provide to patients”. That simple sentence packs a proud punch for our BSH community, which is 60 years old this year, summarising what our approach should be. Whilst it is true that all our clinical, laboratory and research practices have been already precipitously transformed, not everything that has happened for ourselves and our patients has been bad. I have already seen numerous examples where workplaces and colleagues have communicated faster, shared more expertise, cared better for each other, used more efficient practices, been less ceremonious and altogether more human. It gives me courage that I can show leadership by working together with you to capture and retain the best of our transformations so as to help you continue to deliver great patient care and research. In short, during this notable anniversary year, I will focus pragmatically on helping us all to play the hand we have been dealt as we reach for our ‘new normal’. We will begin soon with a survey, asking about your current situation and the how well the changes you have introduced are working. We recognise that, as experiences have varied widely, so have your innovative practices.
As I recount my work for the BSH in our regular bulletins, I hope we can now and then enjoy humour and informality to lighten our proceedings, but please be in no doubt how seriously I contemplate this task of working for you, our BSH community. I leave you with the thought that even the most SAGE advice can change over thyme.
Professor Adele Fielding
- “Changes” Bowie, D. Hunky Dory RCA Records 1971