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Portraits of NHS staff are poignant reminder of care during Covid

Images of 41 NHS staff who cared for breast cancer patient Chris Goddard are now on display at the West Suffolk Hospital, a permanent reminder of a labour of love that has seen a total of 101 portraits completed.

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Dr Ewen Cameron today met Chris Goddard in the Breast Care Unit - where Chris received much of her care - to see the two framed prints which have been created from her 41 portraits.

Thanking Chris Goddard for creating the portraits, Dr Cameron said: “What leaps out at me is how healthcare was managed through the pandemic, and how it affected lives. The portraits also show how many people are involved in a person’s care, and it’s lovely to hear from Chris’s experiences how wonderful the team was.”

The Thetford-based counsellor and therapist painted the portraits of hospital staff and other local people to mark a moment in time when they worked through the COVID-19 pandemic to support our community. The originals of all the portraits, all of which show people wearing the obligatory masks, have been presented to the “sitters”.

The 101 portraits are also reproduced in Chris’s recently published book, Hope – portraits of my journey through Breast Cancer and Covid – which is raising funds for the St Nicholas Hospice in Bury St Edmunds.

Chris said: “This began with Mr Balendra Kumar in January 2021 when I came in for my first operation, and portrait number 101 shows Mr Eamonn Coveney, consultant surgeon. I did everyone I met on my journey with the hospital, mostly members of the breast care team.” Chris said her children and grandchildren had been born at the Bury St Edmunds hospital and that the breast care team was a model of good, joined-up care.

She said: “What has struck me is how impactful every word and gesture is from each staff member – every contact is ingrained on my memory. At a worrying and vulnerable time, I felt very supported, and as if everyone who cared for me knew all about me.”

With each portrait Chris included a letter that explained: “This is a gift to you in appreciation of the work that you do as part of West Suffolk Hospital’s amazing breast care team. Thankfully due to the wonderful care I received, I recovered quickly, requiring fewer hospital appointments. But I had become hooked on painting portraits and so began looking around for more ‘victims’ to paint, deciding to also ‘capture’ local people loosely connected to myself and our pandemic journey.”

The other 60 portraits show staff from Chris’s GP surgery and pharmacy; her postman; the driver who delivers her medication; local fire service and teachers; the chairmen of Breckland and South Norfolk district councils, and two members of the nursing staff at St Nicholas Hospice.

Chris said: “When I was first diagnosed at the end of November 2020 and then almost simultaneously managed to catch COVID-19, my husband bought me a wonderful book initiated by artist Tom Croft entitled Portraits for NHS Heroes and a quote from the book had quite an impact on me,” she said.

The quote from the book was: “It occurred to me that the subjects lining the walls of major galleries for future generations to look back on should be the people who made the biggest difference during this extraordinarily challenging period of history – the NHS key workers on the front line, risking their physical and mental health on a daily basis for our benefit.”

Chris continued: “This book inspired my own breast cancer challenge to paint the portraits of the health professionals encountered on ‘my journey’, my way of saying ‘thank you’ and acknowledging all the additional pressures of working through the very peak of the Covid pandemic. I needed to do something absorbing and meaningful. I had done some painting before, but never portraits, and I had to learn.”

Chris said she invited everyone she had painted to share reflections of their covid experiences, to capture snapshots of those times before they’re forgotten. She said: “It feels good that this has now become a ‘team’ book – a local story of our shared journey and experiences through COVID-19. Every individual story has been so different and so moving, reflecting people’s circumstances. They have made me cry.”

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Ewen Cameron and Chris Goddard

Ewen Cameron and Chris Goddard