28 November 2023

In a strange twist of fate, my message in November 2022 started with the lines: “Another monthly message, another Health Secretary. We seem to be changing leadership almost as frequently as I change my socks.”

Perhaps this is to become an annual event, a festive day in the calendar; it might even be declared a bank holiday - Annual New Health Secretary Day - when we all give each other copies of our waiting lists or the latest complaint letter.

Other than my new imaginary bank holiday, we shall have to wait and see what Victoria Atkins has to offer, though not surprisingly, she has expressed a wish to reach settlements with striking NHS staff.

I was pleased to see the MHRA had recently approved Casgevy, the CRISPR gene-editing product, for use in sickle cell disease and thalassaemia. The UK is the first country to give regulatory approval. We await the NICE outcomes on eligibility and access.

There are few treatment options for haemoglobinopathies, and this agent offers the chance of an effective cure but at considerable financial cost. With approval for this novel agent and stem cell transplants for adults and children commissioned by the NHS, there might finally be some progress for these neglected diseases.

I frequently read about the need for the NHS to improve its efficiency and productivity levels. Looking around at colleagues and their level of commitment to patient care under increasingly trying circumstances, such statements can sometimes feel quite insulting.

However, there is no doubt we need to change how we work and have access to systems which assist us whilst also improving safety, quality and efficiency. Though the reality of such a change at times feels unattainable, there is a need for clinicians and healthcare scientists to be involved in the process of realising the benefits of AI.

Thanks to the collaborative work of the Education Committee and Laboratory SIG, I’m delighted the BSH has just advertised two funded 12-month part-time fellowships in clinical AI. The successful candidates will work with the CSC team at Guy’s and St Thomas’.

The BSH sees this as the beginning of a process of developing AI skills in the haematology workforce. If successful, we hope to continue to support further fellowships and wish applicants to use this initial experience as a stepping-stone to higher degrees. If you’re interested in this unique opportunity, find out more on the CSC’s website or contact Dr Alexander Deng for further information.

With Professor Mike Laffan shortly to step down as Chair of the Guidelines Committee, it’s a chance to reflect on an area of BSH work that is the jewel in our crown. Where evidence-based guidance is concerned, BSH’s reach is global. The scale of the enterprise is highlighted by the need for four task forces and 33 separate writing groups.

It’s a testament to the hard work of the executive, writing groups and support staff that we currently have 60 documents in the Guidelines section of the website. So far, in 2023, we have published five guidelines, one good practice paper and one position paper. We have seven others submitted for publication or at a late stage of production.

Our more popular guidelines get upwards of 10,000 downloads. There are now podcasts to support 40 guidelines with over 50,000 downloads, and the British Journal of Haematology publications accompanying a new guideline are often the journal’s top-cited papers.

As of recent times, we have involved specialist trainees in writing groups and will be recruiting the next ones in January. So, if interested, please keep your eyes open for the advertisements early next year.

On behalf of the Board, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank not only Mike for his hard work but the whole Guidelines team. In future, there is the possibility for the group to have a broader role in standard-setting with greater interaction and influence on NICE and NHSE.

There has been a slight delay in sending the workforce and wellbeing surveys, for which our apologies. In the next couple of weeks, all members will receive an email link to the survey about their individual experiences and departmental leads will be asked for additional information on their wider department situation.

Over the next 12 months, you have the opportunity to contribute to the most comprehensive evaluation of the haematology workforce ever undertaken. As haematologists, we all appreciate the need for reliable data, so please contribute. Our outcomes will only be as good as the level of your engagement.