It is now one year since the Royal Free London admitted our first COVID-19 patient on 9 February 2020.

It has been an extraordinary 12 months for our hospitals, our patients, and our colleagues across the NHS. Every team has had to adjust to the challenges of caring for patients during a global pandemic, and reflecting back over the year it is striking to see how different things have become – both inside and outside of our hospitals.

Our thoughts are with those families who have seen the devastating impact of this pandemic first hand. Many have lost loved ones, and this is an opportunity for us to reflect on the lives that have been lost and share a moment of remembrance. We know that many staff will also have been affected by losing patients. Staff are encouraged to reach out for wellbeing support if you feel that it would benefit you.

Every person in the RFL team should feel incredibly proud for having stepped up over the past year. Thank you all for everything that you are doing: whatever your role, you have been an invaluable part of our response to this pandemic.

Reflecting on the past 12 months

We hope that on the one year anniversary of admitting our first patient, staff will take a moment to step back and reflect on just how much they have achieved.

On 9 February, the first patient arrived at the Royal Free Hospital. The following day we admitted two more patients, all of whom were being treated in isolation. By 28 February, we were advising the public that a number of patients were in our hospital being treated for COVID-19.

At the start of March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a visit to the Royal Free Hospital high level isolation unit, and spoke with staff to thank them for their efforts. Over the month that followed we found ourselves changing the running of our hospitals to allow for vital new infection control measures and to help us deliver safe care to the sickest of patients

The stories of patients and staff at this time were captured in a special edition of the BBC Two Hospital documentary series. Cameras starting rolling on 21 March, the day that the country went into national lockdown.

Throughout this period, our communities, with co-ordination from our amazing Royal Free Charity rallied around us to ensure that we had the support we needed to get through the initial surge. On 24 March we put out a call to employees and volunteers asking people to take on roles inside our hospitals.

Support also came in many other forms: the Royal Free Charity Rec Club at the RFH was transformed into a supermarket distributing essentials to staff free of charge, celebrities recorded messages of thanks and donated supplies were distributed to staff at Barnet Hospital and our satellite sites through ‘community chests’. On 1 June, a team of volunteers hit the 20,000 milestone in their production of surgical gowns at a pop up gown factory. The gowns made use of surplus material to help boost supplies at the Royal Free Hospital and Barnet Hospital. We were also moved by the weekly ‘clap for the NHS’, and many staff took part to show their appreciation for other key workers. Thank you to the Royal Free Charity for everything that they have done to ensure that our community’s support reaches staff and is evenly distributed between our teams.

The trust, meanwhile, focussed its resources on long term planning that could help us respond to a second surge. Construction of the new Rainbow ward at BH began at the end of April and continued throughout the summer. In August, thousands of pounds from supporters who had donated to the Royal Free Charity were used to improve rest spaces and wellbeing support for staff.

RFL teams also began to take a bigger role in COVID-19 research and trials. In October we opened the Novavax vaccine study at the RFH, and announced that we would be involved with the Human Challenge Programme. In November, research conducted at our hospital was published showing that two out of three patients hospitalised due to COVID-19 are still suffering from symptoms.

Winter brought with it the hope of the COVID-19 vaccine, and on 8 December 80-year-old grandmother Josephine Faleye became the first person at the Royal Free Hospital to receive the COVID-19 jab. We opened three vaccination centres which have now vaccinated thousands of staff, patients and priority groups from the local community – thank you to everybody involved with the vaccination effort.

It’s now 12 months since our first COVID-19 patient was admitted and Royal Free London staff are proving yet again how dedicated they are to excellent patient care. We are in our third national lockdown, and over the past two months we have stepped up our response to deal with a second surge, seeing hundreds of staff redeployed or giving up time to work extra shifts. 

Some of this incredible work has been highlighted in recent coverage on Sky News, which has showcased many of our amazing staff, from our cleaners to our healthcare professionals and mortuary team.

Thank you once again to our staff for your incredible efforts.

A timeline: a look back at the past 12 months 


9 February – First patient arrives at RFH

10 February – Two more patients arrive at RFH (all patients are treated in isolation at this stage) and all other hospital services remain open

15 February – We announce the three patients have been discharged

27 February – We receive a new patient

28 February – We advise on our website we are treating patients for COVID-19. Coronavirus ‘pods’ are set up at our hospitals

3 March – Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the RFH high level isolation unit to thank staff for their efforts in caring for patients

12 March – Visitor restrictions are introduced. At this stage just one visitor at a time is allowed to visit inpatients

16 March – Changes are made to outpatient appointments – where possible they are switched to telephone or video

24 March – BBC Hospital’s cameras start rolling on the first day of lockdown

24 March – Visiting is suspended on the wards and COVID patients and those waiting their test results are unable to receive visitors

24 March – We put a call out for employees and volunteers to work or volunteer at the hospital.

30 March – The Royal Free Charity sets up a charitable fund to support RFL staff. £2.5 million has been raised to date and many thousands of donations of meals and food have been donated by businesses

6 April – The Royal Free Charity Rec club at the RFH is turned from a fitness club into a ‘supermarket’ distributing vital essentials to frontline workers free of charge thanks to funding and donations. Donations were also distributed to Barnet Hospital using ‘community chests’.

7 April – Celebrities send messages to Royal Free London staff thanks to a critical care nurse and her actor son’s efforts. Thanks pour in from the stars of Line of Duty, as well as other famous faces

9 April – 10,000 Easter eggs are delivered to the RFL for staff

14 April – The children and young people’s emergency department at BH is temporarily closed

15 April – Planned surgery is suspended. Urgent and emergency cases and cancer treatments continue

16 April – A production line for hand sanitiser is set up at RFL thanks to the pharmacy department

22 April – Project Wingman takes off at the RFL. Volunteer airline staff offer support to staff

24 April – The Royal Free Charity launches the first of its artwork asks – with local artists and children asked to send in their artwork to brighten up the walls of the Royal Free Hospital – specifically a 23 metre corridor to the ITU at the RFH

April 2020 – Construction starts on Rainbow ward, Barnet Hospital’s brand new modular unit which will create extra capacity to help treat patients

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

5 May – New oxygen tanks installed at RFH

11 and 12 May – BBC’s award-winning Hospital is screened to widespread critical acclaim for its behind-the-scenes look at the trust’s response to COVID-19 and the lives … and deaths of patients. Filmed over three weeks from the start of lockdown on 24 March the two-part documentary captures patient stories, the achievements of staff, and the challenges faced by the trust as the pandemic hits its April peak

12 May – We celebrate the amazing contribution of nurses and midwifes on International Nurse’s Day and Year of the Nurse and Midwife, shining a light on the incredible work of the RFL team

1 June - A team of volunteers hits 20,000, in their production of surgical gowns for the RFL from the WAC Arts building in Belsize Park. The Royal Free Charity co-ordinate the volunteers and fund the project, paying for 35 new sewing machines. The gowns make use of surplus material to help boost supplies at the Royal Free Hospital and Barnet Hospital

2 July – 72nd anniversary of the founding of the NHS. The RFL teams up with photographer to the stars, Frederic Aranda, to mark the occasion in a series of photographs to celebrate the heroism of staff

8/9 July – Couple married for 57 years who battle COVID-19 side by side at Barnet Hospital are discharged from hospital

17 July – Draw 2020 is launched. Young people being treated at the RFL are asked to get creative by drawing or painting something that made them smile during COVID-19. Judged by actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter

24 August – The children and young people's emergency department and inpatient ward at BH re-open

26 August – Thousands of pounds from supporters who donated to the Royal Free Charity is used to improve 15 rest spaces for staff

16 September – The trust holds its first ever virtual annual members meeting. RFL chair Dominic Dodd 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.”

28 September – The children’s and emergency department at the RFH is temporarily closed and relocated to ensure that patients receive the very best care during the pandemic

3 October – The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine study opens at the RFH

5 October 2020 – Rainbow ward opens its doors to patients

20 October – The Royal Free London announces it will be taking part in the Human Challenge Programme. In the initial phase the aim will be to discover the smallest amount of virus it takes to cause a person to become infected. This will take place at the Royal Free Hospital, and be supported by many of our services including renal, maintenance, utilities, cleaning, catering, portering and security. The RFH will also provide pharmacy, pathology, radiology, and cardiology support.

20 October – On behalf of the entire NHS, members of staff from the RFL accept a Pride of Britain award from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The event was broadcast on ITV

9 November – BBC’s Hospital returns to the RFL. The six-part series shows how the hospital is gearing up for winter and shows how the battle with COVID-19 is far from over

11 November – Research conducted at the RFL and UCLH is published which shows that two out of three patients hospitalised due to COVID-19 are still suffering from symptoms, such as fatigue, breathlessness or cough, more than seven weeks after being discharged from hospital. The data shows so-called ‘long covid’ is a real phenomenon and further research is needed to understand how the symptoms of COVID-19 can be treated in the long-term

7 December – Chief executive of the NHS, Sir Simon Stevens, visits the Royal Free Hospital to speak to staff ahead of the launch of the COVID-19 vaccination clinics – of which the RFH is one of the first

8 December – 80-year-old grandmother Josephine Faleye becomes the first person at the Royal Free Hospital to receive the life-saving COVID-19 jab

23 December – New research published shows COVID-19 immunity for those who had a mild version of the disease lasts for at least four months. Staff at the Royal Free London were among healthcare staff who took part in a study by scientists, including those at the RFL


4 January – Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Chase Farm Hospital and meets with staff who were among the first to receive the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

14 January – Royal Free Charity Recreation Club re-purposes itself again, this time as a community vaccination hub for the local population

29 January – Results from the Novavax COVID-19 trial, which included over 600 participants recruited at the Royal Free Hospital, shows the vaccine is 83.9% effective in preventing coronavirus in participants

Our liver transplant programme has recently re-started at the Royal Free Hospital with the most urgent cases being prioritised.