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It's been just three months since I took over as President. This has been one of the most demanding and intense periods in my professional life, as has been the case for all of us. There has been frustration about lack of coherent leadership from Government and lack of equipment and staff, but there has also been camaraderie and satisfaction as the teams that we work in have pulled together and risen to the challenge. While there remains much uncertainty ahead, I feel proud of the efforts made by BSR members and the wider NHS to treat our patients and help our communities during this extremely difficult period.

BSR and COVID-19

From the perspective of our society, we have done a great deal to help members and the patients that we treat. Our fantastic team of BSR staff and clinicians on various working committees has published COVID-19 related guidance, covering adult, paediatric and adolescent rheumatology across the four nations. This guidance was issued rapidly and updated frequently, resulting in staggering numbers visiting the BSR website, with NHS England even labelling our guidance as the ‘gold standard’. I am also very proud of the society’s COVID-19 webinar series, with hundreds tuning in every week to hear insights and experiences from our wonderful members.

Leadership voice strengthened 

The impact of this rheumatology rapid guidance and advice has been far-reaching and appreciated within the NHS, as well as by many specialties and other societies whom we have collaborated with. Our work with the NHS is driving forward efforts to capture the transformative initiatives seen during the pandemic and roll these out more widely to improve patient pathways. Just in the last week, our recovery plans were presented as key evidence to Parliament to ensure Government support from the Department of Health and Social Care.

Anti-racism, equality and diversity

From a global societal perspective, things that stood out for me during this period have of course been the terrible impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable people but also the disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths in black, Asian and ethnic minority patients. In addition, the outrage following the racist killing of George Floyd in the United States and subsequent anti-racism protests and movement. Both will leave their mark on each of us in their own way.

BSR issued a formal statement around anti-racism, equality and diversity and invited feedback from members. This feedback is helping to inform a review of our own internal practice as well as external behaviours in order to lead change. We will build further initiatives into our existing diversity and inclusion work, and seek to ensure all aspects of the society’s external work is challenging racial and social barriers – for example, our projects around workforce numbers and rheumatology as a career will explicitly look at how to ensure rheumatology is accessible to all.

From my personal experiences I have seen and experienced prejudice and racism, but my election as a minority ethnic President and my time working with the society and the values that we have fills me with hope. We must be prepared to tackle racism head on, to not be silent or complicit, and to work hard for better representation at all levels of rheumatology.

Business as usual

Outside of our response to COVID-19 we have pressed ahead with projects that matter to our members. This includes a crucial shift to virtual learning for our upcoming Case-based Conference, Rheumatology for Specialist Nurses and Core Skills courses and a Research Funding Call which has made new funding available to members.

We published the National Early Inflammatory Arthritis Audit's 18-month supplementary report, which showed improvements in performance across key quality standards. For our trainee members, we’ve provided free access to practice questions to aid preparation for the Rheumatology Speciality Certificate Examination and we’ll soon be announcing a new virtual learning series. Another success is that our Rheumatology journal secured its highest ever impact score of 5.606 and remains a top-four global rheumatology title.

Moving forward, I wanted to flag two important matters that I would encourage you all to take part in:

  • Firstly, the BSR Annual General Meeting is virtual this year. Information will arrive in your inboxes from tomorrow and I would encourage you to participate

  • Secondly, a membership survey will make its way to you in a couple of weeks and I would urge you all to take the time to complete it to help inform how we support you.

I hope you can get some time to rest and recuperate over the summer. There will be more challenges ahead for us. I will continue to work to ensure that our society continues its contribution to you as members and support for you in managing your patients.

Dr Sanjeev Patel, President