‘Worthless and rejected': Frontline NHS heroes to lose homes

'Have I made myself into a vulnerable idiot who is worth nothing to people?'

Monday, 14th March — By Tom Foot

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Bonham Carter House

NHS workers say they have been left feeling “worthless and rejected”after receiving ­letters this week saying they will be forced out of a subsidised housing block.

University College London Hospitals says it has not been able to renew its lease with the University of London for the 350-room ­Bonham Carter House in Gower Street, Bloomsbury.

Health workers told the New Journal they are in “sheer and utter panic” as they will have to leave the hospital – which is already critically short-staffed – if they cannot live nearby.

The NHS block is mainly home to nurses and doctors but also keyworker firefighters and police who are despairing at such a huge blow soon after the trauma of the Covid pandemic.

One senior A&E health worker said: “I don’t know whether I feel angry, or whether I feel like I’m stupid. Have I made myself into a vulnerable idiot who is worth nothing to people? I thought what I had been doing with my life was worth much more than that.”

Recalling his experience of working on the frontline against Covid, he said: “They were desperate for people for Covid, so I went back to my old department. I worked in A&E without PPE from January until June [2020].

“I worked my guts out and it was horrendous. I must have given personal one-on-one CPR to about 20 people outside of the hospital as the ambulance couldn’t offload the patients; we had to manage them in the back of the trucks. We didn’t even really know what Covid-19 was then.

“I got it and almost died. I was getting severe chest pains, shortness of breath. I had blood as thin as soup, but I got injections and I went back to work. Nine of my colleagues passed away.”

The health worker recalled how he had “delivered five babies on Grafton Way” and had once saved a girl’s life with an extraordinary procedure that left him collapsed on the floor.

“And now I get a letter on Monday telling me to get out by August?”

The experience of health workers in the Covid pandemic, coupled with Brexit, has left the service facing one of the biggest staff-shortage crises in its history. It is particularly bad in places such as Camden where there is a huge mismatch between the cost of living and rents.

Both “bank” (agency) and NHS staff live in Bonham Carter House, which since 2012 has been run by housing association Notting Hill Genesis.

The health worker said: “Most people live here because it is just a three-minute walk to work and they can’t afford to live anywhere else around here. The rooms are filled with nurses and doctors, but also admin staff, physios, firemen, paramedics, even Downing Street protection police.

“It is not just affordable accommodation, it’s part of the fabric of the way the hospital is run. Right now large areas of the hospital are being managed by just one member of staff through the night. They are always backfilling in a panic.

“There are 50 rooms here reserved for people on-call who can come in at short notice if they are needed. There are people who are part-time, full-time, and on different contracts – but we are all needed to back up the massive shortfall in the hospital right now. They all need somewhere close by so they can go quickly to crash.

“So what is going to happen? For me, it’s a fait accompli. I will have to wrap up early with the NHS, and start something new. But all these other souls in here who want to stay on will have to leave town, and they will be looking for hospital jobs near where they have to go and live.”

He spoke about the camaraderie between health workers in the building who had spent last Christmas together, making decorations to hang in the communal kitchens and eating areas.

One of the block’s corridors

UCLH, which has redeveloped large areas of Fitzrovia near its main building in Euston, has been strongly criticised over the years for selling off nursing accommodation to developers.

Blocks in Cleveland Street have been sold off while rooms for low-paid NHS workers have also been lost in Huntley Street along with John Astor House.

Bonham Carter House, which includes Warwickshire House, was originally built by “Mr Selfridge” for women workers at the famous Oxford Street store. It is named in memory of a relative of the Hollywood superstar actress Helena Bonham Carter.

One serving police officer, who has lived in the block for 20 years, said: “It is my sanctuary, my home, my safe place. There is mutual safety and recognition amongst all residents and many are friends, cooking together and supporting each other. Now this is all taken away.”

Despite the gravity of the decision, there is no mention of Bonham Carter House lease expiring in UCLH’s board papers going back a year.

Salaried NHS staff, whose rents are deducted directly from their pay packets, have until June 2023 to leave the building while bank staff have to get out by August 31 this year.

In a blunt letter to tenants this week, UCLH said it would be supporting all tenants during the move and that formal notices to quit would be served on March 28.

The letter states: “For the past 84 years BCH and Warwickshire House have been leased to UCLH and in turn sublet to NHG for the last 21 years. We are writing to inform you that from August 31 the lease will expire and the ownership and management will transfer back to UoL.”

On the board of University of London is former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove. Its chancellor is the Princess Royal.

A joint statement from UoL, UCLH and Notting Hill Genesis said: “We recognise this is an unsettling time for residents and have put in place several measures to support them through this change. We are also providing advice and guidance to other residents whose tenancy ends this August.”

A UCLH spokeswoman added: “We are without doubt extremely grateful to our people for everything they do and we will make sure they are resettled with the least amount of disruption.”

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