Out of adversity and significant personal loss has come some good, with the pandemic being the unlikely enabler of innovation and novel ideas. Contrary to my initial fears that authors would be unable to contribute, this is an extraordinary ‘bumper’ edition and I have been delighted by the immense breadth of the contributions received.
The introduction to the theme by David Jenkins (p117) eloquently captures the essence of key events and milestones as the pandemic unfolded. A heady mix of articles on COVID-19 covers molecular science and the role of whole genome sequencing in mapping global progression (p118), finishing with the challenges of supporting the bereaved in a multi-faith university chaplaincy (p133). Along the way we hear about the significant achievements of setting up a new pathology service (virtually overnight) to support the emergency field Nightingale hospital at the Excel site (p121 and p131), addressing the increased demands for death certification in adverse circumstances (p130) together with the impressive contribution of many healthcare scientists across a breadth of specialties (p128).
The need for high-quality research to support the introduction of any new therapies, however persuasive retrospective surveys and anecdotal use may seem, is emphasised in an article (p126) on the UK’s approach to COVID-19 convalescent plasma. Conversely, the approach to the implementation of testing rolled out across the many regions certainly raises many questions (p146), with lessons to be learned that will help inform future healthcare policy.
I think we should all be proud of our trainees – from undergraduate volunteers stepping forth into uncharted territories (p124) to evaluating aspects of digital pathology (p157), developing virtual laboratory training (p159) and promoting pathology more widely as a career (p144). The trainee survey (p154) captures concerns around cancelled College examinations – a first in the College’s history – but signifies opportunities to modernise going forward.
The rapid development of remote seminars with high-quality speakers (p134) has been highly impressive, with greater inclusion and engagement. While travel is curtailed we can certainly still push boundaries and reach out to colleagues to work together. The pandemic resulted in a fundamental rethink of working arrangements in many countries so that we can share lessons (p150 and p152), even if significantly lower numbers of COVID-19 cases were encountered than in the UK.
The strengthening of IT with remote working and greater interconnectivity will hopefully also help support greater digitisation of pathology and transformation of services across organisational boundaries (p141). However, the workforce remains our greatest resource, with a progressive approach needed to the development of medical and scientific staff. Clearly there are major challenges ahead and much still to do (p138 and p140).
Do we feel it is timely to move on from the term ‘NHS Heroes’? Hard work and a selfless approach to the day (and night) job need not just plaudits, but well-resourced, structured and inclusive healthcare policies.
The increasing focus on diversity and inequality is timely and we must surely now pursue this dialogue across our specialties. I do look forward to hearing thoughts and comments on reporting of race at autopsy (p179). Is it time to review practice and recommend change?
I have been really pleased with the increasing number of books coming our way and the ready volunteers willing to review these, hopefully igniting your interest in the topics covered. We hope to maintain this trend and are happy to receive your suggestions and input.
We must sadly remember colleagues we have lost and acknowledge their significant achievements (p166-169), including Kate Gould, who held many College roles and was Chair of the England Regional Council.
As we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, we can certainly build on experiences and define what is the ‘new normal’. Our vocabulary has perhaps been enriched but at the risk of clichés creeping in, supporting rhetoric with a need for more explicit action. Do we feel it is timely to move on from the term ‘NHS Heroes’? Hard work and a selfless approach to the day (and night) job need not just plaudits, but well-resourced, structured and inclusive healthcare policies.