24 November 2021

Thank you for the music

As November rolls to a chilly, COVID-y end, the convictions of even the hardiest among us that we can continue to socialise outside are slipping away. Meanwhile, according to The Independent from 23 November 2021, unnamed experts believe that ‘messaging around basic measures such as mask-wearing has slipped’. English politicians, we are told, have “lost the message over COVID-19”. We need not look further than a prime ministerial speech to the CBI this week, reported by the Guardian from 23 November 2021 to be ‘an oration in which he lost his place for 20 seconds and enthused about Peppa Pig’ to see that national message-losing seems to be the order of the day. To redress the balance in some small measure, I would like to draw your attention to three key messages, all of which affect the work of haematologists.

First, ‘third dose’ vaccination. We are all aware that patients with severe immunosuppression should receive a third, primary dose of a COVID vaccine. What has been less clear is how this should be achieved. This has resulted in a lot of anxiety for patients and a lot of extra work for our clinics, our CNS teams and our helplines. I want to make you all aware of a letter from NHSE, dated 17 November 2021 in which it is made clear that “the specialist involved should advise on whether the patient fulfils the eligibility criteria and on the timing of any third primary dose” and that “trusts should vaccinate patients eligible for a third primary COVID-19 vaccine dose within their hospital hub, or, where the local hospital hub is not available, put collaborative arrangements in place with an external local vaccination site”. The full text of this important letter has been uploaded to the BSH website here

Second, workforce. Mr Jeremy Hunt, our former health secretary, not previously perceived as a close friend to NHS staff, himself acknowledged that insufficient NHS workforce planning had been done in the past. As reported by the Independent on 15 November 2021, Mr Hunt criticised “back room deals by the Treasury that has stymied workforce planning in the health service for years”. As Chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, he has attempted to rectify that by tabling an amendment to the government’s Health and Care Bill. His proposal would require the NHS to publish staffing forecasts which would be matched to numbers being trained. The amendment was defeated in the Commons by 280 votes to 219. It is not clear why the government would not wish to pursue this sensible approach which is supported by all the Royal Colleges and many other organisations who have given input and advice. I would be grateful for all our members to inform themselves of this issue which is of critical importance especially to younger members with their long careers ahead of them. Read here 

Third I want to highlight a very significant report resulting from a groundbreaking inquiry into avoidable deaths and failures of care for sickle cell patients, led by Rt Hon Pat McFadden MP, Chair of the APPG on Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia. The report found “serious care failings” in acute services and evidence of attitudes underpinned by racism. I believe all haematologists need to be aware of the contents of this report, even if they do not personally treat patients with haemoglobinopathies. Read the report here. Many BSH members have contributed to this enquiry and the BSH intends to lend all support possible to the work of the APPG.

On a final and more flippant note, Josh Wright and the BSH program committee are considering the entertainment options for the April 2022 BSH meeting in Manchester, ably assisted by the multi-talented Stephen Hibbs. Clearly, “without a song or a dance what are we?”1, so we thought how lovely it would be to showcase even more talent from among our members. Stephen has advised that we might try to put together two groups - a group for relaxing, downtempo music as people arrive, and a group for dancing later. So, if anyone is up for being part of either band for the night and for playing with minimum rehearsal time, please get in touch and you can work with Stephen to put something together. If any of you are part of an existing band that fits either description, please also get in touch. You can email Josh, Stephen, myself or any of the BSH emails if you are interested.

1. ABBA. “Thank you for the music”, The Album, Polar, 1977.