A doctor at London’s King’s College Hospital in Camberwell has launched a wellness initiative with his wife to help NHS staff on the frontline who are caring for patients with COVID-19.
Dr Vishal Patel and wife Seena began making up care packages – which they named ‘NHS Wellness Box’ – after Vishal experienced first-hand the unprecedented challenges being faced by frontline staff.
In late March, Vishal, who usually works as Consultant Hepatologist (liver doctor), was redeployed to treat patients with COVID-19 alongside many of his colleagues from around the hospital. He has been working on these wards over the past four weeks as well as with delivering clinical trials investigating treatments for COVID-19.
He described to Seena how staff were coming together to do their very best for the sickest patients in the hospital, in stressful circumstances and often with little thought for their own welfare. This was especially the case in the intensive care units where bed numbers had been increased significantly to deal with patients requiring mechanical ventilation.
Reflecting on the toll this was taking on staff who were working long hours; many while wearing full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and having difficulty accessing essential items in supermarkets in between working long shifts, Seena and Vishal came up with the NHS Wellness Box initiative. Containing essential items such as hand cream, lip balm, energy snacks, rehydration solutions, wellbeing advice and hand-written messages of support from the local community, the boxes are compact enough to be given to staff directly on the wards and are designed to provide immediate relief following a long shift.
Seena set up an open Facebook group (#nhswellnessbox) to raise awareness amongst friends, family and the local community. A Just Giving page was also set up to raise money for key items to fill the boxes with, which could then be distributed to staff at King’s College Hospital, where Vishal works, and the Princess Royal University Hospital (PRUH), which is close to their home. In addition to the money raised they began receiving donated items from the community as well as bulk donations from companies including Clarke’s Fusions, Day Lewis Pharmacy, Dermalex and Jealous Life Sweets so the couple began packing the NHS Wellness boxes from their home.
Vishal, who has worked at King’s for over 10 years, added, “I have witnessed first-hand the Herculean effort of NHS staff at King’s over the last six weeks, and I could not be more proud of their dedication and selflessness. Staff are doing everything they can to care for and support patients with COVID-19, and this is being replicated up and down the UK. Many patients are making a recovery but, sadly, some do not and it is very difficult on an emotional as well as physical level for all concerned. Hopefully, the NHS Wellness Box demonstrates to colleagues that their communities wholeheartedly support and hugely appreciative of their dedication and tireless commitment. Our goal is to make 2,500 boxes for the King’s College Hospital and the PRUH and to share them with the unsung heroes such as radiographers and porters, as well as frontline nurses and doctors.”
The total money raised, which currently stands at over £6,000, has paid for other items to be added to the boxes. The King’s College Hospital Charity has pledged an additional £4,000 to continue funding boxes for both King’s College Hospital Trust and the PRUH as part of a wholly collaborative effort. The boxes have become so successful at King’s – 750 have been made and delivered so far – that they are now being made up in non-clinical areas of the hospital by hospital volunteers teams to keep up with demand.
Talking about the initiative, Seena, who left her role in the city and re-trained as a Reiki practitioner, said, “I thought it was our turn, as a community, to come together and support our local hospitals in a practical way and say a huge thank you for everything these staff are doing. We really hope these NHS Wellness Boxes serve as a little pick-me-up for dedicated hospital staff who go to work day after day during this difficult time whilst the rest of us have to stay at home. We are very grateful that King’s College Hospital Charity has also backed the initiative, and has worked so hard to try to ensure the boxes being made up on site are equipped with those items helpful in supporting the wellbeing of these crucial staff.”
Lisa Morgan, Senior Sister on an intensive care ward at King’s said, “I was lucky enough to receive an NHS Wellness Box last week. The facial wipes are a great relief at the end of a shift. I worked a number of shifts in a row last week and hadn't noticed how dehydrated I was but I used the re-hydration tablets with the water and felt much better. There are many things within the box that I plan to replace because I've found them so soothing.”
Word has spread online of the NHS Wellness Box initiative and as a result more than 20 volunteers around the country are now coordinating efforts within their local communities, making and distributing boxes to 18 different hospitals throughout England.
Seena added, “It is truly wonderful and extraordinary to see that this simple idea has grown organically from one home to countless others, serving staff in several local hospitals at a time of great need, and giving purpose to local communities to help in a practical and uplifting way. I hope that when all this is over, such hard-working staff continue to be looked after and valued given what they have put themselves through for the country as a whole.”
Money can be donated via the JustGiving website. Further information on donating items or becoming a coordinator in your area can be found on the #nhswellnessbox group on Facebook or nhswellnessbox page on Instagram.