The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have pledged to visit frontline workers in Canada after hearing how they have been battling the coronavirus outbreak.
William and Kate held a video call with six members of staff, who sat socially distanced in their blue scrubs, from Fraser Health’s Surrey Memorial Hospital in British Columbia to mark Canada Day.
The couple, speaking from their Norfolk home, Anmer Hall, heard from health care social worker Sunny Dulai, who is six months pregnant, about the challenges she faced during the pandemic, with a smiling Kate telling her: “Good luck, Sunny, going forward … with your new baby.”
William asked: “Sunny, is it right in saying a little birdie says you’re expecting in September? How have you found it? How has it been working?”
Ms Dulai told the duke and duchess – parents to Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis – that dealing with the Covid-19 crisis had affected her mental health after not being able to see her three siblings, but that she had had amazing support from her team.
“Initially I was like ‘No, I can do this’, emotionally, it wasn’t really impacting me,” she said.
“Then, as I got later in my pregnancy and the more the pandemic started to move along, it really did impact my mental health.
“I felt like I was angrier because I didn’t have the support networks at home that I typically have.”
She added: “But I never once felt that I needed to stop working where I work, because of the support I got from my team.”
The duke and duchess paid tribute to the staff’s “fantastic” work and told them they hoped to travel to thank them face to face in Canada one day.
William said: “I just wanted to just touch base and say how proud we are of all of you and everyone on the front line who have led the way, very stoically, very bravely and put patient care right at the top of the list, and done a fantastic job.
“So, well done to all of you, and I hope Catherine and I can come and visit you guys one day and say that to you in person.”
Kate added: “It’s an amazing role that you’re playing and a hugely tough one as well, so we’re in huge admiration for everything you’re doing.”
The duchess described it as “heartbreaking” when she heard that a patient’s wife had sung to him from a phone held in a bag as staff did their utmost to keep loved ones connected during the crisis.
Kate said: “That’s heartbreaking to hear. You guys see that and feel that on a daily basis. How do you manage yourself? Are you all OK?”
The couple had been told of the distress experienced by patients and their families who were separated from one another.
William asked: “Have you guys had to pick up a lot of the emotion, that feeling, and be there to support the patients?”
Ms Dulai said they had come up with creative ways of ensuring relatives could stay in touch.
“It was a FaceTime call or a cordless phone in a bag that we took into a patient’s room and his wife sang to him,” she said.
“That was very important for her, and it meant the world for her to be able to speak to him.”
She added: “These families can’t come in to see patients. They can’t come in to see their loved ones. They can’t be a part of their care. And so it’s a lot of distress, I think, all the way around.”
Fraser Health is one of the five regional health authorities in the province, delivering hospital and community-based health services to more than 1.8 million people, and the hospital has cared for many of the region’s critically-ill Covid-19 patients.
William and Kate experienced what many have encountered when using video calls during lockdown when they realised the hospital workers could not see their faces on screen at the start of the call.
“Can you see us?” the duke asked, before the workers chorused: “No, we cannot.”
With the problem quickly sorted, William and Kate’s appearance was greeted with cheers and waves.
Asking how staff’s mental health had been supported, William said: “Maybe some of you have been pushed to areas that you’ve maybe not gone before because of the worry, stress, anxiety, and what’s happened in the last few months?”
Dr Gregory Haljan, head of the hospital’s critical care, and regional medical director for research for Fraser Health, told the royal couple: “We’ve made it through the surge and now we’re into the recovery phase where we’re trying to take stock of all our stories and what we’ve been through and find the meaning in everything we’ve lost and everything we’ve gained so we can build some resilience for whatever comes next.”
Also on the call, which took place on June 23, was critical care nurse Priya Sangha, who told the duke and duchess she had just finished a long shift.
William joked: “We don’t want to hold you guys up much longer because Priya needs to go to bed.
“Not that you’re looking tired, Priya, but I imagine you’ve been on for the last 12 hours.”
Canada Day is a national holiday celebrated each year on July 1.
It marks the day the dominion of Canada was created in 1867 when the British North America Act united the British colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with the province of Canada to form a new nation.