A Brief History of Time (Bantam Books 1996, Hawking, Stephen, R.I.P.) which I am sure many of you have read, might have forewarned just how brief time can be at the BSG. As my time as President comes to an end I recall that when I came into this role the most common question I was asked was ‘what’s your grand plan, how big a splash will you make?’ What I have learned and the advice I would pass on is that it’s not about the splash at all, it’s about the ripples you leave behind and the shores they reach long after you've taken your hand out of the water. Believe it or not during the past four years the BSG has been through some fast-flowing currents, stormy weather, and hit the occasional rock along the way but it continues to sail into its ninth decade as a vibrant professional Society. The most important legacy any of us can hope to leave is ‘healthy survival’ and after that perhaps a sense that it might be “a bit better than we found it”.
You should know from earlier bulletins how busy the BSG is on your behalf, and many of you have been active in achieving so much. I have had the pleasure and benefit of working with a brilliant executive team and very talented trustees for the last few years who have helped to improve our governance and compliance with all of the new charity and GPDR regulations that we've had to navigate. The elected Council has a stronger and more crucial role in holding us to account; the core committees and functions of Education, Research, Training and Service Improvement have continued to deliver exceptional quality throughout that time. The annual meetings continue to be the main showroom and educational events for BSG activity: 2017 in Manchester was our biggest ever meeting and 2018 in Liverpool is shaping up to be just as big. These were supplemented by two stand- alone live endoscopy meetings as well as trainees’ Taster and Management meetings, and regional meetings. We will launch a new Research Strategy at the annual meeting in June which provides a platform for BSG members to grow their activity and influence in the NIHR portfolio and we are working actively with CORE and other digestive disease charities to find ways of funding those ambitions. We've changed our main conference-organising partner to add more value, and we are in the process of reviewing or renewing our other external contracts. Specific projects that the BSG has pump-primed and fostered continue to flourish: we have given the IBD Registry its own autonomy in order to grow; the Specialty Certificate Examination that the BSG developed has grown into a pan-European exam setting the benchmark for standards and quality in Europe for all future gastroenterologists, with 436 entrants this year, 193 candidates sitting in the UK; the mentoring programme developed as SWiG is about to undergo its next phase of expansion to be available to benefit every member of the Society. The observant among you may even have noticed that we have a new website and membership team and we are developing our communications strategy. We have conducted the largest ever survey and engagement exercise of BSG membership - it's great to see that >85% of you think that the BSG is doing a great job and serving all of our needs but we know we can and will do better.
There is so much still to do and regrettably we did not get through the entire ambitious programme we set ourselves four years ago, notably the ‘consultations’ process still requires work, and we will continue to develop programmes to support gastroenterologists in ‘7-day working’ and ‘flexible & ideal job plans’ but there are many challenges ahead. The BSG Workforce & Census exercise that has spawned the last 4 workforce leads at the Royal College of Physicians has become more difficult to undertake in the new climate of data protection, engagement with our political masters and the departments of health in the four nations has become more tricky as their funding is evermore constrained, accreditation systems for training, research and probably for service will continue to evolve and challenge us. Getting ahead of the curve with quality improvement initiatives is also a challenge given the funding constraints in the service. On a positive note all of these challenges have fostered ever greater and closer collaboration amongst colleagues. It is this (gender-neutral) ‘fraternity’ of the BSG which adds most value to BSG members in this context and has bolstered the values and intent of the Society. Speaking of gender, it is timely in this centenary year of women’s suffrage that I will presently hand over to only the second ever female President of our Society. The principal role for the BSG President, is to support our brilliant members and officers in their endeavors, allowing them to excel, steadying the ship only when necessary, but I know that, if required, your next President could emulate the recent exploits of Tammie Jo Shults in that guise, and avoid catastrophe.
Ripples and their consequences are affected by many things: contours of the land, density of the medium, interference from other splashes; the hands making the ripples are not always seen and the splash created beneath the surface can often make the largest ripple of all. Whatever floats your boat, the BSG can help you reach the distant shores. I finish this role knowing that the BSG is more professional & efficient, more collegiate & collaborative, more representative & democratic, and is solvent, secure & sustainable for the future. So long, and thanks for all the fish!