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Worried hospital porters ‘refuse virus overtime’

Royal Free says all extra work is optional

12 April, 2020 — By Tom Foot

HOSPITAL porters thrust onto the coronavirus frontline have refused to take overtime shifts as fears grow among non-medical staff that they are putting their health at risk. A Royal Free porter said a group had become “nervous” about weekend work, particularly on low pay, following a spike in patient death figures.

The hospital in Pond Street, Hampstead, is under intense strain from patient admissions and is scrambling to cover staff off sick or forced to isolate at home.

A memo written by a senior figure at the hospital about the response to challenge of Covid-19 included a note stating it was “unacceptable” for non-medical workers to refuse to help more.

A Royal Free spokeswoman, however, said overtime offered to staff was always “optional”.

Part of the porter role has seen them takes goods up to coronavirus patients.

“For a long time I have felt us porters were not thought of as very important, as people higher up in other wards ignore you – basically because you are a porter,” said one. “But now we are being told we are now essential, as what we deliver is saving lives. When going around wards we have seen a lot of people who look seriously in bad health but have continued to do my job. I do try my best.”

He added: “A few other people who have been at the Royal Free over 10 to 15 years were asked, like I was, to come in at the weekend. And all of us said ‘no’ as we run around all week and were only going to be paid time-and-half. That is not good enough when you’re putting your health at risk,’ is what each one of us has said. We all feel nervous at doing more then we should.”

He added that Royal Free staff appear to have enough protective equipment, unlike other hospitals, and that patients had “most of what they need”. Porters – like transport workers, supermarket staff, postal workers, bin-men and delivery drivers – are being described as “heroes” for the first time as part of a collective coronavirus fightback. But harrowing stories have emerged this week about deaths of key workers up and down the country.

The number of coronavirus deaths recorded by the hospital on Tuesday was 27 in one day.

In comparison, this time last year the NHS trust was recording around five deaths a day in total for all its patients across three hospitals.

Over the weekend, a nurse in the intensive care unit had warned in a private social media post of a “parallel universe” inside the Royal Free wards where people were trying to save lives, comparing them to the parks outside where people were seen relaxing and in some cases sunbathing. The Royal Free has put out a desperate call for volunteers to fill empty positions to cope with the surge in work.

Last week, the New Journal reported how 300 medical students had been fast-tracked to help, some at the Hampstead hospital. In a memo, leaked earlier this week,

Dr Dan Martin – the top boss of the Royal Free’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) – said: “Last time I was on a night shift, theatres were full of non-medical staff refusing to help ICU – this is unacceptable.”

A Royal Free statement said: “We’re so proud of all our staff from all areas of the trust and how they’re answering the huge challenge we face. They’re doing exceptional things in exceptional times and we’re doing all we can to support them. Working extra hours is always optional and managers follow the guidance provided by NHS Employers.”

You can donate to help staff at the Royal Free or sign up for volunteer shifts at

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