This week, a cleaner at Whipps Cross Hospital, Hassan Akkad, won the hearts of thousands after posting a photo to his personal Twitter.
Tasked with disinfecting parts of the hospital after suspected Covid-19 patients, the picture featured himself dressed in full PPE before his work shift.
When he posted the photo at 7.16am on Tuesday 7 April, little did he know that it would go viral. Eighty-eight thousand ‘likes’ and counting later, that’s exactly what happened.
Hassan, 32, is originally from the Damascus region in Syria, and was an English teacher at a high school near his hometown. After leaving Syria in 2015, he arrived in the United Kingdom and settled in Leytonstone, east London. Since being in London, Hassan has worked as a freelance photographer and film-maker, and even documented his perilous journey to the UK for a BBC film that won a Bafta award.
In light of the recent coronavirus crisis, Hassan wanted to help in any way he could, so he started looking online and got in touch with a local recruitment agency who were looking for hospital cleaners.
“I got in touch with a local agency who quickly got me a role at Whipps Cross Hospital. I live about ten minutes away from the hospital so I was glad I could help. Serco provided a very thorough induction which covered how to disinfect properly, health and safety, the current regulations, and ensured we were provided with the correct PPE. They were very helpful, and I appreciate all the support I got.”
After the induction session, Hassan was then sent onto a ward at Whipps Cross to shadow a cleaner called Albert, who has been working at the hospital for ten years.
“I want to mention Albert, as it was Albert who trained me and who really taught me how to clean the wards. A lot of people think it’s just cleaning, but there is actually a lot more that goes into completely disinfecting entire parts of the hospital.
Albert and I work in one of the covid wards at Whipps Cross with about 20 other people; consultants and nurses included. Despite the pressure, everyone is keeping their heads up and it really does feel like a family.
It’s a stressful time of course, and I was very nervous when I started as you hear things on the news about people dying. A majority of people are completely avoiding the hospital, and I was heading right onto the frontline. Although it's stressful, it’s equally very rewarding knowing I’m keeping people safe. I feel as though I’m doing my bit and looking after my community in the place I call home since I left Syria.
What’s more, in Hassan’s original Tweet he encouraged people to donate to the Barts Charity emergency Covid-19 appeal to support staff in the Trust as they deal with the crisis. This message alone has already generated hundreds of donations.
Hassan has since been interviewed by the Guardian, and also featured in an interview on Good Morning Britain with Piers Morgan. Staying extremely humble throughout the whole experience, Hassan just wants to acknowledge the work of his colleagues.
“I can’t stress enough how important the support staff are at hospitals. The cleaners, porters, catering staff, security, they all have a vital role to play and are such an important element of the hospital. As well as the doctors and nurses, I also want to shout out my fellow cleaners and the people who are risking their lives in this difficult situation.
I hope if this teaches us one thing, it teaches us to be kinder to one another despite where we come from. I hope this changes us for the best.”
(To see Hassan’s original Tweet, visit: https://twitter.com/hassan_akkad/status/1247407836155576320)