First ever virtual annual members’ meeting celebrates trust’s achievements during momentous year

17 September 2020

Staff at the Royal Free London (RFL) were praised for their outstanding efforts over the past year at the trust’s first ever virtual annual members’ meeting.

Following a momentous six months for the NHS, the bravery and commitment of staff, the generosity of local residents and community groups, and the support provided by the Royal Free Charity were key themes throughout last night’s annual event. The meeting was held online for the first time due to social distancing restrictions.

Addressing attendees, RFL chair Dominic Dodd (pictured above at the meeting) said: “I want to personally thank our 10,000 staff for the expertise, energy and devotion to patients that they’ve shown during this period. I’ve spoken to many different staff members across the trust over the past six months and I was really struck that so many people, when asked how they were feeling, responded by saying the same thing: this is what we do.”

Caroline Clarke, RFL chief executive, described how the trust had re-organised itself and staff had stepped into new roles in order to care for the thousands of COVID-19 patients admitted since the start of the pandemic.

“Our clinical and support staff stepped up to the plate,” she said. “Many people switched roles completely, some people didn’t see their loved ones for a long time. And that is why as a nation we clapped.” 

Caroline also paid tribute to the enormous support provided by the local community and by the Royal Free Charity.

She said: “Our charity was instrumental in helping us to support our staff so I want to say a massive thank you to them, and to the very kind members of our local communities who donated money, food and other goods to keep us all going. We are genuinely humbled and so grateful for this support. It’s been incredibly moving.”

Caroline was joined at the meeting by infectious diseases consultant Sanjay Bhagani, who spoke about learnings from COVID-19, and Julie Hamilton, group chief nurse, who spoke about how we are preparing for winter.

Judy Dewinter, the lead governor, outlined the activities of the governors over the past year as part of the council of governors report. She told attendees: "The council of governors represents you, our members, trust staff and the public. So our annual members meeting is a really important opportunity to report back to you. 

"During the latter part of this year some of our activities have been limited due to COVID-19 but we continued to fulfil our statutory duties for meeting online and for much of the past year we have been fully engaged. Many of you will have attended our first online medicine for members event, which detailed how the trust was providing care to patients as we learn to live with COVID-19."

Dominic also spoke about some of the trust’s achievements before the pandemic hit, including the Royal Free Hospital’s 2,000th liver transplant and Chase Farm Hospital being recognised as the most digitally advanced hospital in the country.

He also thanked patients for their understanding and help during the peak of the pandemic and said: “We were able to cope with the first wave of COVID-19 because so many people went through the sacrifices of lockdown, especially those shielding, and also because we stood down many of our usual activities. And I recognise that made life very difficult for many of our patients. Thank you to everyone who has made a sacrifice and helped us through this challenging period.”

Julie Hamilton told attendees how the trust was ensuring the safety of its staff and patients by having strict measures in place, including the use of mask throughout all hospital buildings.

She said: “We have produced some videos – that are available on our website - which give details of how we are making our hospitals safe for patients and staff. For example, those attending will notice that there is increased vigilance at the front door, offering masks to people coming in. We’ve introduced extra cleaning in all areas of the hospital and we are using social distancing measures.”

Sanjay Bhagani explained how much clinicians have learned over the past six months, knowledge which is helping the trust prepare for another COVID-19 surge.

He said: “With the support of our clinical research network and research and development team we set up clinical trials very quickly and we have learned that some treatments work. We now have a better handle on the best supportive care for COVID019 patients. But we need to do more research and more studies as although we have worked out who’s likely to become very unwell, what would be ideal is to offer people treatment to stop them progressing to that stage.