'Community is kindness': NHS cleaner behind viral video moves on to volunteer at east London food bank

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  • June 17, 2020
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A Syrian hospital cleaner who went viral after sharing a video about the lack of support for foreign workers in the NHS has moved on from a Covid-19 ward to volunteer at a food bank.

Hassan Akkad shared a passionate plea on Twitter in May, asking the public to help deliver a message to the Prime Minister about the immigration health surcharge.

Mr Akkad said he had felt “betrayed” and “stabbed in the back” after the Government initially refused to remove foreign workers from the surcharge or extend the bereavement scheme to all NHS support staff and care workers.

Boris Johnson was forced into an embarrassing U-turn and pledged to scrap the £400 annual fee paid by non-EU migrant health workers to use the NHS – many of whom also have to pay visa fees to remain in the UK.

Following the decision, Mr Akkad thanked unions, journalists and members of the public for “restoring his faith” in the country and for sharing his message.

After more than two months working as a cleaner on a Covid-19 ward, Mr Akkad revealed on Tuesday he has moved on to volunteer at a food bank in Leytonstone.

He said he took a coronavirus test to make sure he did not have the virus before starting his first shift.

“After 65 days of working at my local hospital as a cleaner, the number of Covid patients dropped down and the hospital closed my ward,” he wrote in a statement on Twitter.

“With the closure of the ward my journey at the hospital has come to an end.”

Mr Akkad said he would be on standby if the country suffered a second wave of the virus.

“I won’t lie, it was hard and emotional leaving that place,” he said. “My colleagues have become a family to me, and it was so hard saying goodbye to them. I took a week off to sleep, reflect and process what I witnessed.”

But Mr Akkad’s public service during the coronavirus pandemic didn’t stop there.

“Today I started volunteering at our local foodbank in Leytonstone, and I just finished my first shift packing parcels and delivering them around our neighbourhood to those in need,” he said.

“Reverend Polly who runs the programme at our local church told me that the number of people relying on our foodbank tripled since the pandemic hit, and I can only imagine that this is happening all around the nation.

He added: “I urge you, if you have time, to check with your local foodbank to see if they need volunteers.

“Community is kindness.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan thanked Mr Akkad for his service.

“Thank you Hassan for your service to our city,” he wrote on Twitter. “History will remember the heroes who stood on the frontline of our fight against Covid-19.”

Despite the public outcry over the surcharge, a leading doctors’ group called for “clarity” earlier this week after it emerged foreign NHS workers and carers are still being charged for using the health service.

UK stays alerts during Coronavirus – in pictures

A new poll conducted by Doctors’ Association UK found that 158 NHS workers reported still having to pay the immigration health surcharge.

DAUK spokesperson Dr Dolin Bhagawati said: “Members have been completely aghast that the vast majority of migrant healthcare workers are still being forced to pay the immigration health surcharge despite promises to the contrary from Boris Johnson’s administration.

“Rather than clarity, our members have faced obstruction and inconsistent messaging when contacting the Home Office.”

Although the Prime Minister said the fee would be scrapped “as soon as possible” in May, the Department of Health and Social Care has not yet confirmed the date from which it will officially end.