26 January 2022

Where is the love?

Now is a particularly difficult time in the UK, to work in a highly-regulated profession where self-reflection and a high standard of professional conduct are not only rightly expected, but are repeatedly assessed and documented, as a necessary element of retaining employment. 

It is also difficult (when around 1,000 people/weekly are still dying of COVID infection,) to see mask mandates be removed and to hear the speculation that self-isolation (even after confirmed infection with COVID,) could be scrapped in a month or so. When common sense health measures such as keeping away from others whilst actively infected with an extremely transmissible disease are starting to be positioned as radical and antithetical to ‘freedom’, you know for sure something is badly wrong. 

I hardly dare imagine how it feels when the regular setting for one’s day job as a medical or science professional is in the midst of this chaos. I read a challenging but interesting article in the 12 January edition of the New Statesman by Philip Ball, entitled “Muted and deferential, the UK’s scientists have failed the pandemic test”. It was suggested that advisers may feel that they cannot contradict ministers due to the civil service code, which obliges advisers ‘to act in a way that deserves and retains the confidence of ministers’ but notes that this code does not envisage a situation when a minister may act in a way which forces those advisers to decide between their duty to public health or their duty to the minister at whose behest they are serving. The fact that supposedly independent NHS hospitals are obliged to run all their external communications by NHS England for approval, serves as a reminder that keeping your mouth shut about what is actually in front of you doesn’t just apply to select senior individuals. We are all in a difficult position.

I reflect, ruefully, that hospitals aren’t generally known for being hotbeds of radicalism. In fact, during my medical student days, it will not surprise you to hear, that I was mortified at the typical gap between the wealth and privilege between those offering treatments and those receiving them. However, by and large, medical professionals are reasonable people who are generally, by definition, well-disposed to others. Modern training of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and clinical scientists emphasises collegiality, working well with diversity, openness, and a no-blame culture. However, I am certain that haematology colleagues regardless of their typical position on the political spectrum feel significant concern about the state of current affairs at the top and would like to see decency, openness, and care for others from our political leaders, not simply on their behalf, but on behalf of the many terrified, clinically vulnerable patients that we care for. Put simply, in the words of the Black Eyed Peas, “Where is the love?”1

"Every time I look up, every time I look down
No one's on a common ground
(Where's the love?)
And if you never speak truth then you never know how love sounds"

My message to all of you this month is that now is the time to say something, do something, change something. Whatever small thing you can do, please do it. What we have in the UK right now is not right. Every time you are worried about the personal fall-out from you speaking out in some small way, please imagine where we will be as haematology professionals working in the UK in 10 years from now if the current situation continues. Our much-vaunted British “decency” crumbles easily when it is not modelled by our leaders. 

Speaking of leadership, I promised I would do my best to spread the word of the BSH elections. We have had a great deal of interest in the Board and Vice-Presidential positions, and we have a fabulous slate of candidates. It has historically been only a modest subset of members who have voted so, due to our first past the post system, a statistically insignificant difference in vote share can change the outcome – sound familiar? So, this year… for me….to shut me up… please show your support for democracy as a concept and for your BSH as an organisation by taking the time to vote. It will be a simple, secure online process, taking a very small amount of your time. 

  1. Black Eyed Peas “Where is the love?”, Elephunk, A&M, 2003.