Royal Free Charity volunteers have come together with UCL medical students to launch a new ‘Check in & Chat’ service, reaching out to the trust’s most isolated patients.

Designed to support patients who are experiencing feelings of loneliness as part of the current COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the service matches patients with phone buddies who call every week to find out how they’re doing and have a chat.

The Royal Free Charity Support Hub identified a need to find new ways to support their patients at the start of lockdown. At the same time, consultant surgeon Fiona Myint had started noticing signs of loneliness when carrying out telephone consultations with patients. She spoke to a group of UCL medical students about the possibility of reaching out to some of those patients.

“We noticed that some people, especially older patients, wanted to talk for longer than the usual consultation time. So, we came up with the idea of forming a ‘Cheer Up Chatters’ team,” said Roshni Baid, a UCL student helping to lead the project. “This is a group of almost 80 students who are now available to chat to those who are socially isolated.”

Now that the students have come together with the Royal Free Charity, they have over 120 volunteers signed up to offer patients non-clinical support.

The service is already bringing a smile to the faces of those using it. Volunteer Barbara signed up when the programme first started, and has seen the benefits first hand.

“I’ve been a volunteer for the hospital chaplaincy service for several years, and I wanted to find a way to continue helping people. I was matched with somebody quickly and have now had several calls with them – we’ve been getting on well, and they have told me that they look forward to the weekly catch up.

“I think my training in the chaplaincy helps with being a good and supportive listener. It has definitely become a two-way thing - I feel like I’m really benefiting from these conversations as well. It would be hard to suddenly stop calling when lockdown ends, so I think I’ll continue ‘checking in and chatting’ for as long as I’m able to.”

Liz Fowler, support hub lead, said:

“We had to close the doors to the hub, but we didn’t want to shut out our patients. Offering a telephone chat means that we can continue to offer our services, albeit in a different way. Feedback for Check in & Chat has been great so far, and we’re hoping to reach even more patients over the coming weeks.”

If you or anyone you know would benefit from the Check in and Chat service, please email with your patient details (with their consent to do so), or for more information.