A WOMAN who returned to NHS frontline duties in York in the fight against coronavirus will run the Virtual Great North Run to raise money for the ward where she spent her time.

Sally Hayler, 43, from York, left the NHS in 2018 after 15 years as an occupational therapist, but responded to the plea in April for ex-staff to return to help with the covid-19 response.

She spent two and a half months at York Hospital, mostly on ward 34, the respiratory ward. Her role involved helping to arrange discharges and reduce delays with ongoing treatment for patients with covid and other respiratory conditions.

Although Sally has now returned to her regular job, she is taking on the unique half marathon challenge to raise money for ward 34, as her way of thanking them for welcoming her into the team.

She said: “I spent 15 years as an occupational therapist, including four years at York Hospital working on the Acute Medical Unit.

“When the email came asking ex-staff to return I immediately responded to say I wanted to help. In early May I had a call from York Hospital asking if I would return to the hospital to work as a discharge liaison officer. This was a ward-based role working to plan and arrange patient discharges and reduce delays at all stages of patient care.

“With all my years of OT experience I knew I could help, so I asked my current employer if they would support me to temporarily return. They agreed to loan me to the NHS for up to three months.

“I started at the hospital on 20th May 2020.

“I was nervous, scared and excited all at the same time. After a brief induction I started working on the covid wards. I was glad to help and this is what I volunteered for, but it was scary too.

“As the number of covid patients reduced, I moved to ward 34, a respiratory ward.

“I spent most of my time on ward 34, and saw what an incredibly hardworking, dedicated and caring team they are.

“I got a real insight into what hospital life was like during a pandemic, and it wasn’t easy.

“Wearing PPE all of the time during a hot summer was uncomfortable and made completing routine tasks harder. There was a need for vigilance to ensure any covid patients were quickly identified and isolated to reduce the risk of ongoing transmission. Many patients were also very poorly with other conditions and needed a high level of care. Ward routines and structures also changed as the number of covid cases reduced, adding to the daily pressures.

“Although the whole country was supporting the NHS, I got to really understand exactly what was going on day to day, which only increased my respect for all NHS staff. It was hard work.”

The Virtual Great North Run will see runners all over the world complete 13.1 miles on 13th September where they live using their own route, after the 40th staging of the event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s free to enter and open to everyone regardless of whether they had a place in this year’s event, and runners are encouraged to raise money for charity.

Sally is aiming to raise over £500 for ward 34 to replace lost equipment that occurred during several ward moves and to repair damage that occurred to wall art decorations.

She continued: “Since Covid, the team has had to negotiate constant change in the hospital as it adapts to meet the changing demands, including two ward moves, but the team have continued to work together to do a brilliant job caring for the patients.

“From my employer to my husband Will and children Lewis and Austin, everyone has been so supportive of my decision to return to York hospital to help the covid response. The team on ward 34 were incredibly welcoming to me, for which I will always be grateful.

“This is my way of thanking the team and recognising the great job they do.”

Those taking part in the virtual event will be taken on a Great North Run journey on their doorstep.

Working with app provider viRace, organisers have created a unique running experience that uses iconic sounds from the event and plays them through the runners’ headphones as they take on the challenge.

The app will highlight popular course features, provide distance updates and play motivational messages from famous voices.

Sally is no stranger to the Great North Run, saying: “I’ve run the Great North Run several times before, sometimes in fancy dress.

“It’s a highlight of my year.. nothing beats running through the tunnels singing OGGY OGGY OGGY or the relief when you finally see the sea!

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world and am so pleased that there’s a virtual event this year. It’s a great example of resilience and responding positively in challenging times.”

Entries are open for the Virtual Great North Run at www.greatrun.org/north