By Drs Matt Brookes, Jon Segal and Phil Harvey
When most of us first heard of a novel coronavirus, few could have imagined the impact it would have here in the UK. In March 2020 new terms entered our regular dialect; lockdown, shielding and furlough to name a few. We rapidly discovered that being socially distant leads to loneliness and challenges our mental health. Fear of catching coronavirus promotes anxiety even in those not prone to it beforehand. This is a time when charities that provide information and support are hugely important, yet the charities need help too.
Charities like Crohn’s & Colitis UK and GUTS UK provide patients with reassurance and support right now and hope for the future. We encourage our patients to visit their websites for information, as well as get involved in campaigns, fundraising or other patient initiatives.
What I, Jon, especially admire about these charities is they have been so supportive to trainees starting early research careers, providing thousands of pounds in funding, promoting studies and encouraging all types of researchers to participate.
When the Covid pandemic hit we were told that many staff of these charities would go on furlough. At first, we felt this was likely a small bump in the road but as we learnt more and the situation progressed it became apparent that charities were facing a challenge like never before.
I, Matt, saw tweets from some of the charities suggesting that they were entering into a period of great uncertainty, with fundraising opportunities likely to be limited due to the pandemic. At this time many healthcare professionals were hit by the whirlwind of restructuring to ensure the NHS was ready to face the pandemic. We were focusing on trying to make sure that our patients had the correct medical advice and that we were able to support them by developing virtual services. It was only when I saw this tweet that it struck me of the potential wider impact this crisis would have on other members of the Gastroenterology community. We felt we needed to step up and try and do what we could to help.
It was a really uncertain time for all of us and amongst colleagues and friends there was a sense of isolation and fear. The twitter community started to come together, and it was there that the idea of setting up a virtual charity run was born. This quickly snowballed into a large team, who took up the #VirtualRunforGuts challenge, made up patients, nurses, healthcare professionals, trainees and consultants and their army of donors.
It’s been great to see the camaraderie, the training and the sneaky virtual pint we have shared together. It’s been an amazing team to be part of and we hope we have achieved something small for the charities.
What has taken me, Matt, completely by surprise is how dramatically this initiative has taken off. It has been staggering to watch the initiative grow from a few tweets to £10,000 of donations and hundreds of kilometres covered and donations from supporters from around the world. In the end we counted over 40 participants and that’s not including those who didn’t post on Twitter!
I, Phil, found it challenging to work as a doctor during this pandemic, and this is echoed by other healthcare professionals. The challenges we have all met have been different and individual, for example some of us moved out of our home to avoid taking the virus home to their families. Many gastroenterology trainees have been diverted to do more General medicine. This means seeing Covid patients, working longer shifts and working out of hours. This has challenged our resilience and our mental health.
There is no doubt that it has brought parts of the Gastroenterology community closer together at a challenging time.
For us #VirtualRunforGuts has been about doing something positive during a difficult time, and making time for exercise has been a brilliant side effect.
For many years, as a Gastroenterologist, I had seen these charities quietly supporting and providing a voice for our patients, as well as providing our researchers with funding. This was a time for patients, public and healthcare workers to give something back to support Crohn’s & Colitis UK and GUTS UK when they needed our help.
The #VirtualRunforGuts has been an inspiring initiative. Not only has it been a really fun group of colleagues to work with, but it has encouraged all of us to get outside and enjoy some exercise. The money raised is a testament to the generosity and kindness of our broad community of Gastroenterologists, specialist nurses, allied health professionals and patients. We’d like to thank the donors, runners, walkers, babies, children and heavily pregnant who have helped. We’d also like to thank the British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG) trainees section and the wider BSG for their supporting in promoting and supporting this event.
We hope as a result of #VirtualRunforGuts that the charities can continue to support our patients, that our exercise habit continues and that everyone involved feels at least a little bit revitalised.
There’s still time to donate. If you want to say thank to our amazing healthcare professionals, click here