A message from our president

A message from our president
30 May 2020
IBMS President Allan Wilson has written a message to our members after a meeting with key stakeholders
I write this after a key stakeholder meeting with Director of Health Improvement at Public Health England, Professor John Newton, Head of Pathology COVID-19 Testing Cell at NHS England and NHS Improvement, David Wells, and IBMS CEO Jill Rodney. 

After highlighting the main concerns of the IBMS membership (as I have previously done in the press and media), I was certain that Professor John Newton understood and recognised our issues. He praised the huge amount of work that we, as scientists, have done, and the high standards we employ in all our work. He said that he was extremely grateful for the outstanding contributions of Biomedical Scientists, Clinical Scientists and laboratory staff and that he was keen to engage the IBMS and utilise our membership’s expertise, experience and insight much earlier going forward.

I have taken him at his word and felt he was genuinely trying to do the best job for us all – but, of course, I reserved my right to offer criticism. My main message was – where we can be of use, please use us. I believe he will – and I will update you about this input whenever I can.

When I was elected President of the IBMS I had little idea what was in store. I knew I was proud of my profession and that I wanted to draw more public attention to the great work that we do. I also knew that I wanted to increase understanding of our skills and expertise amongst people who make decisions that affect our working lives - so that more of us could thrive and expand our scope of practice. Obviously, I hadn’t counted on this pandemic.

COVID-19 has had a terrible and tragic impact but it has also brought those things that I wanted to address into focus – public and professional awareness of what we do and what we can offer

Even though many of us shout from the rooftops that hundreds of millions of annual tests and the vast majority of diagnoses are heavily reliant on the laboratory work of 17,000 highly skilled IBMS members from across the four nations, the public often think that sample testing is something that their doctors do. And even though we have repeatedly sent out detailed scientific information (and an animated video) about COVID-19 testing to every trusted news source and media outlet, we still see them running stories that misrepresent the science or show sample collecting as testing.

This reveals the real issue that we face: that it is hard to inform people of something that they simply do not see. Even amongst our colleagues, we occasionally come up against the frustration of ‘Why hasn’t the laboratory done this yet?’ – as though we are an unpeopled engine with fully automated processes.

Sometimes it seems like only we know that the roles of Biomedical Scientists, Clinical Scientists and laboratory staff involve great expertise, constant adaptability and huge leaps of innovation. I’ve been astounded by the sheer dynamism of our profession in its response to SARS-CoV-2. Particularly, how quickly we pulled together to get a very complicated molecular test and got it up and running across the UK. Though we have perhaps been underutilised, and the strategies around testing have not been all we would have hoped for, as scientists we have nonetheless risen to all the challenges that we have faced. 

It is an easy moment to become bogged down by the fact that we have not been enabled to thrive as fully as we could have or be exasperated that our work is often not visible enough or easy enough to convey to others – but I believe we should take great pride in all that our profession is accomplishing. We should strive to be objective, like our practice teaches us, and see straight through to what we are doing and giving through our roles.

Of course, we should also be using our moment in the limelight to improve patient care and make more people aware of what happens to their samples. It is always good to inform people about and raise awareness of our capabilities – so that we are counted, not overlooked, and our skills are recognised, so that all appropriate actions are taken – but as someone who has been in the news and media a lot lately take it from me, what we are doing on the ground is the most important part of all this. The laboratory is the beating heart of healthcare – where the vital facts are reported.

Deep down, everybody knows this. There is an unprecedented global respect for scientists and science. That’s why people are listening to us and sharing our concerns. They know that when it comes to eradicating a global pandemic Biomedical Scientists and laboratory staff are their best hope. 

Before I sign off, I would like to bring up that we have now done well over one million tests in a matter of months – and this figure represents NHS and PHE virology and microbiology departments in England alone. It gives a little bit of scale to the amount of work we do across the UK. Every year, hundreds of millions of samples are processed, anaylsed and reported on. It’s astounding when you sit back and think about the output of our service. 

It would have been an honour to represent you at any time but, during these difficult times, it is also a gift to be able to reach key stakeholders and major newspapers and broadcasters to tell them about what you’re doing and what you’re capable of. You are amazing – stay safe and keep working together to get us all through this.

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