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Coronavirus: Royal Docks priest sets up Nightingale Hospital chaplaincy service

PUBLISHED: 10:00 23 April 2020

Father James Mackay outside the Nightingale Hospital. Picture: James Mackay/PA

Father James Mackay outside the Nightingale Hospital. Picture: James Mackay/PA

A Royal Docks priest who has spent weeks at the bedside of coronavirus patients has set up a 24-hour chaplaincy system to help tend to the religious needs of the seriously ill and their families at the Nightingale Hospital.

Father James Mackay has set up a 24-hour chaplaincy system to help tend to the religious needs of the seriously ill and their families. Picture: James Mackay/PA WireFather James Mackay has set up a 24-hour chaplaincy system to help tend to the religious needs of the seriously ill and their families. Picture: James Mackay/PA Wire

Father James Mackay said he was compelled to help at the ExCeL the moment he heard it was being converted into a health facility.

He said he and his colleagues had been called on to read the last rites for patients and carry out baptisms, as well as spending time with those battling the virus.

And he said the extremity of the situation was taking its toll on him and his colleagues.

The 40-year-old said: “Death is a reality in this situation and we are there for people when sometimes sadly the inevitable happens It does take its toll on us.

“It’s kind of part of the job, as priests we are often going into hospitals but in this environment it’s slightly more concentrated, it’s every day.

“There’s a danger you don’t attend to your own emotional needs. I think what happens then is exhaustion - I get to the end of the day and I’m tired.

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“My emotional and mental wellbeing needs to be taken care of, and that’s why conversations with brother priests is so important at this time.”

Father Mackay, parish priest of Our Lady of Walsingham, has arranged a team of nine priests with at least one in the pop-up hospital from 9am until 5pm each day. Outside of those hours, the priests operate an on-call system, to respond to requests from patients’ families.

He said: “The on-call system is working beautifully.

“A priest called me at 10am - it wasn’t his day on - and said he got a call for a patient at 4am.

“It meant so much to the family that a priest was there giving the last rites and was able to be there in that patient’s final moments.”

Father Mackay said he and his colleagues were inundated with requests for their time since they began attending.

He said: “This is the thing at the hospital - religious practice is a reflection of society in general, it’s not necessarily top of everyone’s list.

“I was walking down the concourse at the Nightingale last time I was in and I was stopped five times. Four out of those five times they started with: ‘I’m not religious, but...’

“I can’t move now without a conversation starting up.”


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