Caroline Clarke reflects on COVID milestone

9 February 2022

On the second anniversary of the first COVID-19 patient admitted to the Royal Free London, RFL group chief executive, Caroline Clarke, has written to all staff to recognise their contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today marks two years to the very day that the Royal Free London was about to enter centre stage in a global crisis, the scale of which the world has never seen.

It was 9 February, 2020, and the Royal Free Hospital was one of the first in the NHS to admit patients with a SARS-like virus, boasting an unfamiliar name. Fast forward to today and there can’t be single person on the planet who is not aware of the devastation COVID-19 (as it was officially christened two days later on 11 February, 2020) has left in its wake.  

How best to describe what followed? I don’t think words can do justice to what we have experienced in the past two years. The impact has been both very personal but – especially for those who work in the NHS – communal. We’ve lived it together when we have been at work, experiencing the incredible highs and gut-wrenching lows. But like everybody else, we’ve felt COVID’s huge effect on our personal lives.  

You will all have your own version of events to describe a journey that sometimes feels like it started yesterday, and sometimes feels like it’s been going on forever.  

But here are some things I do know:

  • You cared for over 7,400 patients with COVID-19 at a time when they needed you most.  
  • You set up vaccination centres which have given over 141,000 COVID-19 jabs to protect healthcare workers, patients, and members of the public.
  • You innovated at a scale and pace never seen before to care for patients in different ways.
  • You used technology to put loved ones in touch on screen, at a time when they couldn’t do the simple things we’d always taken for granted, like share a hug or a moment of human contact.
  • You established vaccine and treatment trials that have changed the course of the pandemic so that we can live with COVID-19 rather than in fear of COVID-19.
  • You worked with an incredible sense of common purpose to provide the best possible patient care, reorganising services often at the drop of a hat.
  • You used data and science to ensure that our patients were treated with the best possible regimes.
  • You forged incredible relationships with our NHS partners and others, including the military, which will endure forever – we will continue to work across the health and social care system to make sure that we provide the best services for our local communities.

And now you have got the show back on the road – helping to treat the many patients who have been waiting longer for their care because of the pandemic.

This week the spotlight nationally remains on the NHS – we are reminded almost daily of the challenges we’re facing and the work we still have to do.  And of course, we are reminded that we are part of the solution, and that we must rebuild our services to be better than ever before.  

So, two years on, the NHS does feel different.  We have learnt about how to work in systems across organisations.  We have learnt about reimagining and reinventing many of our services. We have learnt how important we all are to each other – no matter what our role, or in which department we work.  And I hope that we’ve learnt about the importance of personal and team resilience.  

I hope as we reflect on today’s milestone, you can take a moment to consider what the last two years has meant for you.  For me they have left a huge sense of pride in the role that you have all played and an affirmation of just how lucky the Royal Free London, the NHS and – most importantly our patients – are to have you on our team.


Caroline Clarke

RFL group chief executive