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President’s Bulletin: Food for the Mind, Succour for the Soul

Updated on: 08 Feb 2021   First published on 02 Feb 2021

Author:  Dr Alastair McKinlay 

The worst kind of nightmare is the one you cannot escape from. I don’t usually remember my dreams, but if I do the nightmare usually involves wasps and ice cream, a distant childhood memory. In the end I always wake up, but the experience is often vivid and uncomfortable.

At the moment, the pandemic nightmare doesn’t seem to end. Perhaps the relative respite we gained during the summer led to a false sense of security. We knew that there might be a surge at Christmas, but the arrival of the new variant exceeded any expectations. So instead of opening the year with some cautious optimism about the vaccine, we have been plunged into a gold-plated, five-star crisis.

Pandemics do end. If they didn’t, we would all be up to our necks in Spanish flu. In 1919, viruses were postulated but had never been seen. There were no antivirals. For that matter, there were no antibiotics to counter secondary infection, so the only active interventions were public health measures. The pandemic did end, although it took around two and a half years to do so. We are in a better place than that. There are vaccines. We understand the science of viral transmission better. We have Intensive Care Units. We have a Health Service. New cases have actually started to come down in the past few days.

That does not mitigate the pain, or the effects of the chronic anxiety all of us have been living with over the past 12 months. My own children have grown up, but I can imagine the fatigue and worry that is associated with home schooling.

Sadly, no matter how much we would like to, the BSG cannot either shorten the pandemic, or take away the pain, but we do want to try and help.

A little succour for the soul

We will continue to provide accessible learning and CPD for our members through our regular webinars and also through meetings like BSG Campus. The opening day was wonderful. We know that many people couldn’t join live, so it has been made available online, at least until the end of March 2021, but you do need to register.

Intellectual stimulation refocuses our practice. It reminds us why we went into gastroenterology, hepatology, nutrition, or nursing. It refreshes the mind, and I find it also alleviates some of the fatigue.

Firstly, we are developing some support services for our members, working with an award winning, accredited healthcare provider. The support will be completely confidential, separate from the NHS, and free to BSG members. We will publish details shortly.

Food for the mind

I have watched the expertise, diversity, and talent of our members with a huge sense of pride, and it is a real sense of privilege to lead the Society at this time. I found Nobel prize winner Michael Houghton’s talk at the opening of Campus very inspiring. He started his work on post-transfusion non-A non-B hepatitis when it was known to be a probable viral illness, or illnesses, but very little else. His team at Chiron found the genome, identified targets for diagnostic tests and within a few years, through comprehensive testing, had effectively abolished post-transfusion hepatitis. The knowledge of the HCV genome and proteome led to new drugs and treatment results that are still amazing. A vaccine may start trial later this year. The real-life outcome has far exceeded expectations. For COVID, the same processes have already occurred, but in less than 1 year.

There is no doubt that the COVID nightmare will end, but at the moment we need to maintain our guard. Vaccines are not always as efficient in real life as they are in trials. We must not get careless about distancing, masks, and staying clean.

Pandemics always present a few surprises. There will be setbacks, but COVID will go, and a new normal will emerge. The BSG community needs to stay sharp, keep safe, be kind, and support each other.

We will win.

Alastair McKinlay

BSG President

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