Royal Free ‘now faces surprisingly similar’ pressures to first Covid wave

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Royal Free ‘now faces surprisingly similar’ pressures to first Covid wave

London hospital's director of operations told Limmud attendees 'we are very, very busy indeed' and reveals generosity of community during pandemic

The Royal Free Hospital.
The Royal Free Hospital.

A senior manager at the Royal Free yesterday admitted her NHS Trust was facing “surprisingly similar” pressures to the first COVID-19 surge.

Rachel Anticoni, director of operations at The Royal Free Hospital, told Limmud attendees “we are very, very busy indeed” during a session on the response to the pandemic.

The hospital leader reflected that the first surge in cases “felt like a rollercoaster of mini-incidents- layers and layers of operational pressures that made day-to-day working especially hard.”

Anticoni added that the decision to shut the doors to visitors and relatives at the end of March was “without a doubt the most difficult decision we had to make.”

Acute staffing pressures also forced staff to weigh up between “answering the phone or caring for the sick”.

Joining Anticoni was Judy Dewinter, Chair of the Royal Free Charity, which provides services, research and equipment not covered by NHS funding.

An emergency appeal set up by the charity has raised over £2 million to support the work of the Trust.

“This included one donor who wanted to give 600 iPhone chargers! We also received six figure donations from very generous people in the community,” Dewinter explained to the 150 Limmud attendees.

The Royal Free London is one of the largest hospital Trusts in the UK, with 10,000 staff serving a population of over 1.6 million people.

During the first lockdown, Anticoni recalled that ‘toilet roll gate’ left staff facing empty supermarket shelves by the time their shifts ended. Colleagues found this “really difficult.”

The Royal Free Charity responded by creating a free supermarket for staff called ‘Free at the Free’.

“We repurposed one of our sites to provide food and other essential items to frontline staff at the beginning or end of their shift,” explained Dewinter.

“We received over 650,000 items in donations and were visited 55,000 times by staff over eight weeks.”

On the ‘Clap for Our Carers’ initiative, Anticoni recalled feeling “extremely emotional” and noticed a “real buzz the next day.”

“It made such a difference and really boosted morale among the staff.”

The pair also discussed mental health and wellbeing initiatives for colleagues, as well as the experience of having a BBC camera crew filming across the site for the popular ‘Hospital’ television show.

Dewinter concluded the discussion by issuing a plea for healthy individuals to visit to register as a volunteer.


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