A shared purpose at the Royal Hospital

7th April 2020

Healthcare systems in countries around the world are facing a considerable challenge in their Coronavirus preparation and response. The increased risk to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions is putting pressure on organisations which have a primary focus on caring for older people. As the average age of the Pensioners at the Royal Hospital is 82, it places them in an at-risk category for the virus and has necessitated a robust response from The Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Pensioner Leo Tighe sitting on a bench on the Royal Hospital's collenade
Many of our Pensioners have served across the globe in various conflicts. They were prepared to risk their lives for their country - they now stand on new territory in the face of a different threat.

76-year-old Chelsea Pensioner Leo Tighe said;

“It’s an unseen war, against an unseen enemy”

The Royal Hospital’s organisational culture, which has close ties to the Army, is certainly a strength under these circumstances. The Army is adept at assessing threats and planning accordingly, in overcoming logistical and supply challenges, and in maintaining clear structures and discipline under pressure. These qualities can also be observed in the diligent way the Hospital has adapted to changing government advice, its stores management, and its detailed planning - which was put into place well before the surge of cases in the UK.

Representatives from the Hospital’s Quartermasters/Facility Management, the Infirmary’s Care Services, and Health and Wellbeing Departments meet for their daily COVID-19 briefing.

One unexpected and positive effect of the crisis has been in a strengthened sense of solidarity and community, which has perhaps faded in recent years. While we have seen negative behaviours, like panic buying, we have also seen much to give us hope - people clapping for the NHS, singing from balconies, and volunteering to collect groceries for their elderly neighbours.

One of the Hospital’s Chefs prepares for the busy lunchtime service, which are now broken into multiple sittings to ensure social distancing
In addition to our frontline NHS workers, we are indebted to the essential staff all over the UK who are doing their best to keep services functioning, people cared for, and generally ensuring the country continues to run.

At the Royal Hospital, we rely on the hard work and dedication of our team to ensure that we can continue to provide a high standard of care for our Pensioners. Our staff are motivated by a shared purpose to make sure that our Pensioners are looked after. Many have agreed to stay on-site, away from their families, for long stretches, to meet the increased demands on our nursing, hospitality, cleaning, and other support teams.

A sign on the entrance reads: stop berths on this ward are in isolation
The Hospital has restricted certain areas to essential staff , reducing unnecessary traffic. There are also strict isolation procedures on wards where there are suspected cases of Coronavirus. A number of dedicated staff members are going above and beyond their usual roles to support the Hospital’s Health & Wellbeing department and the Army medics who have stepped in to help. The Hospital is not alone in this challenge and has been taking a range of expert advice on infectious diseases and best practices during this time.

Our Chaplain, Rev. Steven Brookes, in front of cart carrying medication with the British flag as he volunteers for the medication run
For the Pensioners, life has changed dramatically. In addition to the changes to internal procedures and public visits, the Hospital’s busy events schedule including Founder’s Day, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and the many external activities that normally take place have been cancelled, in line with government advice. 
General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, Governor of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, explained;

“It’s had a tremendous impact on their daily lives; suppressing activities which would normally be going on - some of their hobbies. They are now sequestered most of their time in their berths. They can still get out for exercise. The Chelsea Pensioners come here for the comradeship and the friendship of their fellows. Many of them come from very lonely backgrounds and, of course, they have had to get used to experiencing that comradeship at a distance. But they are soldiers - they are used to self-discipline.” 

A Pensioner with a walking frame out walking in Ranelagh Gardens surrounded by trees on the walking path
Pensioners here understand the need for these strict measures, but under isolation it can be challenging to keep a positive mindset. Amidst the tough times, the Hospital is keen to make sure that the sense of camaraderie endures. Our Social Care team has implemented a ‘Ministry of Fun’ initiative to keep morale high and introduce some creative ways to stay connected and positive at this time. This has included setting up a makeshift pottery room to allow Pensioners to continue this regular activity, albeit in groups of two to ensure social distancing. There are also tutorials offered to set up video calls and outdoor (socially distanced) walking groups in Ranelagh gardens helping maintain camaraderie and connection with family members and friends who are similarly staying at home.

A potters wheel in the foreground of a popup pottery workshop
Another measure which we have recently introduced has been the Pensioner Pals webpage where you can leave messages to our Pensioners. These will be passed on daily and we are sure will bring a smile to their faces. Though the future remains uncertain we are confident in the ability of the incredible team at the Hospital and their drive to keep Pensioners happy and healthy in the face of this global challenge.

Christopher Reeve, who overcame a massive personal challenge said: ‘Once you choose hope, anything’s possible’. An important part of our work is to be seen to ‘choose hope’ - it will inspire others to achieve the best they can and overcome their challenges”

said Gary Lashko, Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Hospital.


Royal Hospital Chelsea Newsletter

Stay up to date with what's going on at The Royal Hospital by signing up for our e‑newsletter.


View the archive

Major Phil Shannon
Farewell to Major Phil Shannon

We prepare to say a fond farewell to Royal Hospital favourite Major Phil Shannon MBE

Founders Day 2022
Founder’s Day returns to its full glory at the Royal Hospital Chelsea

After 2020’s cancellation and last year’s pared back celebration due to the pandemic, the most iconic date in the Royal Hospital’s calendar returned to its full glory this year. 


Follow @RHChelsea