Royal Free Hospital slammed over restricted visiting hours

The Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead 

The Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead - Credit: PA/Jonathan Brady

The Royal Free Hospital has been slammed for allowing media teams into wards while visiting hours remain heavily restricted for families.

Visiting hours at the Pond Street hospital are among the most restricted in the country, with one visitor per patient allowed one hour per day.

By contrast, at the Whittington Hospital visitors are allowed between 2pm and 8pm, with additional prearranged visits available.

It is understood the Royal Free's restrictions are due to the high number of immuno-suppressed patients.

However, some media organisations have had access to the hospital, with the BBC's Bafta-nominated Hospital series given access to the Royal Free at times throughout the pandemic.

In May 2020, BBC Two broadcast Hospital Special: Fighting Covid-19 – two episodes that were filmed from day one of lockdown. Further filming took place in November 2020 and in January this year.

Journalist Barclay Ballard has had several family members in and out of hospital over the last two years .

The 31-year-old said: "It's hypocrisy. I understand they need to shine a light but I think it's not right when families are prevented from seeing their loved ones."

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He added: "While patients were being denied access to their loved ones, the hospital was organising the visit of a film crew – surely that presents a greater infection risk? 

"At the time this filming took place, visiting was restricted to the dying, and patients with dementia or learning disabilities."

He criticised the "hoops that must be jumped through to complete a visit", saying the ongoing restrictions "are a scandal". 

A spokesperson for the Royal Free said it was necessary to restrict visits over the past two years to reduce the risk of infection to patients and staff.

They said: "We know this has been difficult for many people and would like to thank the public for their understanding."

They said the trust is "proud to have been able to raise awareness of the incredible response of the NHS during the pandemic" by giving "limited access to media organisations".

"Crews followed strict infection control guidelines at all times when on our premises," they said.

"This has helped to illustrate the real impact of Covid-19 and the important role the public can play by following national guidance and getting vaccinated."