By Andrew R.C. Marshall
LONDON, March 23 (Reuters) - As coronavirus deaths surge in
Britain, a group of London volunteers has set up a catering
service to provide free meals for hard-pressed nurses at a major
public hospital fighting the pandemic.
The group, called Critical NHS, gets food from local
businesses and delivers it three times a day to nurses and other
frontline staff at St George's Hospital in south London.
Many British people revere the National Health Service and
the free care it provides. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
warned on Sunday that the NHS could be "overwhelmed" by the
coronavirus in just two weeks.
As of Sunday, 281 people with COVID-19 had died in the
United Kingdom. The government said there are 5,683 confirmed
cases, with London hardest hit.
Critical NHS, the volunteer group, was set up on Thursday by
husband and wife Niall Barrett and Janneke Diemel, who were
responding to an appeal from a senior nurse at St George's to
"drop off a box of biscuits or something the staff can snack
"Our first run was 20 pizzas," said Barrett. "The nurses
loved that, they were so appreciative. And then it kept growing
Barrett and Diemel, who run a golf travel company, were
quickly joined by two part-time coaches from Battersea
Ironsides, a local rugby club. Other local people have offered
to drive, donate and run the Twitter account.
A crowdfunding account set up on PayPal raised 22,000 pounds
($25,500) in just four days.
Barrett said many nurses were too busy to buy food, or found
their usual eating places had closed.
Local pubs and restaurants donate meals or sell them
cheaply. Then the volunteers at Critical NHS deliver the meals
to the hospital's general intensive care unit, where it is
distributed to nurses, ambulance crew, porters and other staff.
By sourcing the food locally, he said the group hopes to
help hard-hit small businesses stay afloat.
"Part of the ethos is to buy from local businesses," said
Barrett. "Then we can support them and support the nurses at the
A Chinese restaurant and a pizzeria sold the group food at
half price, while a pub gave it 40 Sunday roasts - a British
tradition - at cost.
"The support has been beyond incredible," wrote Anthea
Allen, the senior nurse at St George's who made the original
appeal, in an email thanking the community.
She said the staff "have been kept afloat by this support.
They no longer have to bring their meals to work. We have shared
food with the wards who are also caring for Covid patients."
Covid is short for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused
by the coronavirus.
Flush with donations, the volunteers plan to to set up a
food bank at St George's where nurses can get pasta, eggs, milk,
tampons and other basic supplies.
Last week a video on social media showed an exhausted nurse
driven to tears after finding shelves bare after her shift at a
critical care unit in York.
Critical NHS is also earmarking money to pay for hotels for
nurses who can't get home between shifts, and said it had
received requests to extend its services to another London
With over 9,000 staff, St George's University Hospitals, the
NHS trust that runs the hospital, says it is the largest
healthcare provider in southwest London.
At the back of its sprawling grounds in Tooting is a special
unit to deal with cases of the coronavirus.
Another group, called Clap For Carers, is calling for all
Britons to applaud at 8 p.m. on March 26 to show NHS staff "our
appreciation for their ongoing hard work and fight against this
($1 = 0.8624 pounds)
(Reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall; Editing by Guy