Royal Free surgeon says ‘hospital came together’ to keep vital operations going, ahead of BBC documentary return

Dr Daren Francis prepares for surgery at the Royal Free in the first new episode of the BBC's Hospital. Picture: Ryan...

Dr Daren Francis prepares for surgery at the Royal Free in the first new episode of the BBC's Hospital. Picture: Ryan McNamara / BBC / Label 1 - Credit: BBC/Label 1/Ryan McNamara

“We wanted to make sure services were robust enough to withstand a second spike.”

Royal Free Hospital surgeon Daren Francis told this newspaper how the “whole hospital” has come together to ensure rising Covid-19 cases wouldn’t derail important treatment for other patients.

The 50-year-old features in the new series of the BBC’s Hospital documentary programme – filmed at the Royal Free and its sister hospital in Barnet.

He is a senior colorectal surgeon and in the first episode he is seen performing a complicated double procedure on patient with cancer.

The surgery took place just as hospital staff were working out how best to bring procedures back to the hospital. During the height of the pandemic, private hospitals like the Princess Grace in Marylebone offered theatre space to the NHS to help keep Covid patients separate from other urgent cases who needed surgery.

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Even with this help, Daren said doctors and nurses found they had to carefully consider how to prioritise surgery.

He said: “When Covid-19 came along we had a few issues to deal with. The whole team came together, all across the hospital - everyone across management, nursing staff, ITU staff - came together to think how we were going to cover coronavirus, and how we were going to keep covering emergency work, too.

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“Emergency work doesn’t stop coming in because of Covid. People still suffer things like acute appendicitis,”

The consultant surgeon added: “We looked at all of our patients waiting for surgery and risk assessed them into those who we felt a delay would cause a negative outcome with their treatment.”

As the summer ended, the NHS deal with private hospitals ended and surgery was “repatriated” to the Royal Free – where services were redesigned to be as robust as possible.

“We have always got to think of the patient first and foremost,” Daren said. “It’s not just about the surgery in the operating theatre. It’s about the consultation and all the time they spend in hospital.

“We wanted to make sure it was a service robust enough to cope with a second spike. We were suspicious there might be a second spike, and as this starts to come about, we are seeing the fruits of our hard labour.”

The first new episode of Hospital airs at 9pm on November 9 on BBC1.