ROBERT HARDMAN: Duo team up with actress and Mail Force to deliver PPE

ROBERT HARDMAN: A million masks! NHS duo team up with actress and Mail Force to deliver PPE

Care homes at the frontline of the war on the coronavirus will this week receive one million free surgical masks, courtesy of two campaigning NHS doctors and one Hollywood star.

As the Government prepares for a second wave of Covid-19, healthcare workers across London are being helped by a new organisation set up by a surgeon and a GP, both of whom have had the virus themselves.

The new initiative, backed by Hollywood actress Thandie Newton and with the wholehearted support of this paper’s Mail Force campaign, means that 130 care homes will have enough masks to see them through whatever crises the coming months may bring.

Supporting carers: Sanjay Purkayastha with the cargo of one million masks at a depot in north London

It is just the latest success for top surgeon Sanjay Purkayastha and GP Anu Patel, two friends who met as London medical students more than 20 years ago. 

Over time, they have been embroiled in some of the greatest health challenges which the capital has faced, but nothing on a scale to match the current one.

Based at St Mary’s Paddington, Sanjay was one of the junior doctors on duty on the day of the 1999 Paddington rail crash just round the corner. 

He was a registrar in the same hospital, operating round the clock after the London bombings on July 7, 2005, which killed 56 (including four suicide bombers) and injured 700.

To this day, he has vivid memories of the facial injuries which confronted him.

The new initiative, backed by Hollywood actress Thandie Newton (above) and with the wholehearted support of this paper’s Mail Force campaign, means that 130 care homes will have enough masks to see them through whatever crises the coming months may bring

By June 2017, he was a senior consultant when he was summoned in following news of a fire at a nearby block of flats – Grenfell Tower. In between, he has operated on umpteen victims of the capital’s knife crime epidemic.

In other words, he’s seen it all. But the coronavirus is in a different league.

Despite both being struck down by the virus – ‘the sickest I have been in my life,’ says Sanjay – the two men have now spent months badgering organisations large and small in to donating face shields, overalls, masks and gowns for local NHS trusts.

This week, the two doctors will switch their focus to the adult care sector with their biggest consignment of PPE to date – a million masks – going to care homes across London. 

‘This is the greatest area of vulnerability right now,’ says Anu. Here is an inspiring reminder that, yes, the NHS is far from perfect, that the virus is still ever-present, that PPE remains a critical issue and that, thankfully, there are people out there determined to do something about it.

Life is busy enough for Sanjay, a general surgeon with the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, a senior consultant in gastrointestinal medicine, a university lecturer and senior clinical lead for St Mary’s Lindo Wing (best known as the birthplace for royal babies).

Because of anti-Covid precautions, every surgical procedure now takes an extra 70 minutes. With reduced operating facilities as well, the backlog of operations is almost overwhelming. ‘It will take years to get back to normal,’ he says.

However, Sanjay is not in his scrubs when I meet him. He has taken two hours off work to go to a depot in north London and watch a particularly gratifying sight: no less than one million Type 2R surgical masks arriving on a large lorry. They are about to be unloaded into a Brent Council warehouse and will soon be on their way to care homes all over the city.

When not on hospital duty or looking after their families, Sanjay and Anu, both 44, spend their spare time running 1 World Medical, a new organisation supporting healthcare in London. It was born on the same April night that the Prime Minister was rushed to nearby St Thomas’ Hospital with Covid-19. 

A few miles away at St Mary’s, in the middle of his first stint back at work since suffering from the virus himself, Sanjay was preparing to operate on a child critically ill with a burst appendix. 

But when he went to the scrubs cupboard, it was bare. So he went into the operating theatre wearing a T-shirt and another doctor’s discarded scrubs beneath his isolation gown. 

The following morning, he contacted his old friend, Anu. Between them, they sat down at their laptops and began firing off emails. And they haven’t looked back since.

This new cargo of masks follows a donation from the the Scheinberg Relief Fund, created by Israeli-Canadian businessman and philanthropist Mark Scheinberg and his family.

At the start of this pandemic, Mr Scheinberg allocated £40million to helping organisations fighting the virus in several countries, including Britain. 

As a result, he has donated £210,000 to Mail Force, the new charity backed by this paper and its generous readers, which has now raised more than £10million for PPE across the UK.

At the same time, Mr Scheinberg was keen to make a donation of the same amount specifically targeted at the social care sector in London. So his foundation contacted Sanjay and Anu. The result is this truck, parked in front of us and packed with a million pieces of PPE.

Finding and delivering large quantities of certified PPE is not easy, particularly for two full-time NHS medics, so the pair sought the advice of Mail Force. 

They also contacted the Commissioning Alliance, the PPE consortium for London councils, which is arranging distribution. 

As a result, boxes of PPE are now on their way to 130 care homes across London, including the 115-bed Victoria Care Centre in Acton. 

It has been Covid-free for months now and that is exactly how manager Basu Lamichhane intends to keep things. 

‘We are so grateful to organisations like 1 World Medical and Mail Force. It means that PPE is now one less thing for our staff to worry about,’ he says.

Sanjay and Anu are still slightly amazed at what they have pulled off in such a short space of time and remain extremely grateful to supporters like Thandie Newton. 

A few miles away at St Mary’s, in the middle of his first stint back at work since suffering from the virus himself, Sanjay was preparing to operate on a child critically ill with a burst appendix. But when he went to the scrubs cupboard, it was bare

At the height of the crisis, as they were frantically contacting everyone they could think of, Sanjay sent an email to the star of Crash and Mission: Impossible II, having met her a few years before. She replied immediately.

‘I first met Sanjay when he performed emergency surgery on one of my children at St Mary’s,’ Thandie tells me via email. 

‘We will always be indebted to him. Like many people, when the pandemic struck, I felt frustrated at not being able to help with the challenges faced by NHS workers. My mum spent her entire career in the NHS – as both a nurse and a midwife – which added a poignancy when I discovered how worrying the PPE situation was for Sanjay and his colleagues.’ 

She put the doctors in touch with her contacts in the film and fashion world. Very soon, they received a one-ton load of hospital gowns designed and made by Burberry. 

‘They were the best gowns I’ve ever used!’ chuckles Sanjay. The doctors also received thousands of hospital scrubs from the ASOS fashion group.

In addition to providing PPE, the duo are using the new platform to pool data and new ideas, ranging from a process for recycling masks to clothes which kill the virus. 

‘We have to look at everything because Covid is not going away and nor are we,’ says Sanjay.Nor are their fans.

‘It’s so touching to see the passion that Sanjay and Anu have,’ says Thandie. ‘The most breath-taking heroes come from unexpected places, and they’ll never expect an ounce of praise. They’re always too busy trying to solve the next problem. We’d be nothing without them.’

For more details, visit: 1world medical.org

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