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Fresh food and heating in winter – how our support hub makes a difference

“I’ve got someone with me. Someone to stand up for me and get my voice out. When she came, it was a godsend. Without this service, I would have been lost.”

The Royal Free Charity support hub is for patients of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. At the core of the hub is our welfare rights advice service. This provides practical advice to help patients if their diagnosis means they are finding it hard to make ends meet. Among other things, we can help them understand what benefits they are entitled to and how to apply for them.

Briana receives ongoing treatment at the Royal Free Hospital for a long-term kidney condition. Briana had struggled to get the financial support she was entitled to but thanks to one of our advisors, Gabrielle, she was able to submit the necessary paperwork.

Briana told us that the help of our support hub means she can now afford fresh food, heating in winter and comfortable shoes – that’s important to her because her health condition causes her to feel pain in her feet when walking.

“I was in trouble. I have trouble talking to people I don’t know. I have trouble filling forms. When I thought about using the hub, I was scared. I started getting more depressed. And then I met Gabrielle,” explained Briana. “Sometimes, the way I try to say things, it doesn’t come out right. But with Gabrielle, I’d say it and then she’d translate what I was trying to say. She’d just understand and be able to deliver it. I trust her, I feel supported, she gets me.”

Support hub lead Liz Fowler said: “Briana can now have the everyday things that so many of us take for granted.  Many of the patients who are referred to us face an ongoing struggle to get by because of their long-term health condition. Some are at risk of homelessness and many are experiencing anxiety and depression.

“And while the welfare advice service is at the heart of the support we provide, we do much more than that. We offer our check in and chat service to help people who are struggling with loneliness and isolation, as well as peer support groups. We can also help facilitate referrals into mental health support services.”

Between April and December last year, 30 volunteers were paired with patients as part of our check in and chat service. Our welfare advisers saved seven people from homelessness last year and we successfully achieved £549,690 worth of benefits for people who could no longer work due to poor health.

Briana received a kidney transplant at the Royal Free Hospital which she is grateful for; however, she continues to experience daily pain and nausea, poor memory and concentration, and mobility problems. She is also living with the effects of long COVID.  This affects her mental health day to day. COVID has made it harder for Briana and others in similar health situations: “COVID has made it clear: we don’t have the same choices as others. I have to be careful all the time. Now living with long COVID is scary; I forget everything and it’s a really frightening thing to be experiencing.”

Briana summed up why having the support hub at the Royal Free Hospital matters: “What helps is that you’re in a hospital; you’re connected to my medical information and my clinicians.  I hate talking about my medical stuff, so it helps that I have one person there who knows me really well, someone who I feel safe with”.

We’ve changed the name of our support hub client to protect her confidentiality.