Prince Harry officially opened new hospital facilities at Hackney’s HIV centre Mildmay yesterday, continuing a legacy set by his late mother Diana, Princess of Wales.
Mildmay Hospital, nestled behind Shoreditch High Street, is Europe’s only centre dedicated to rehabilitation for patients with HIV-related brain impairment. It treats some of the most complex conditions associated with HIV in the country, with patients often arriving unable to walk, talk or feed themselves.
Kerry Reeves-Kneip, Mildmay’s director of fundraising and communications, said: “This was such an important day for Mildmay. The excitement about the visit has been building all week and to finally meet the Prince was such an enormous privilege. He put everyone at ease and showed great sensitivity and compassion when meeting patients.”
Princess Diana was a regular visitor to Mildmay, where she helped break the stigma surrounding HIV by famously kissing the cheek of a terminally ill patient in 1989. Mildmay’s executive director Dr Ross White said this made Harry’s visit “particularly special”.
Like his mother before him, the Prince has been a vocal campaigner to end stigma associated with HIV and has lent his voice to support those suffering from the disease.
Prince Harry was visibly moved when he was presented with a handmade Christmas card and a framed photograph of his mother visiting the hospital. He delighted onlookers by signing the guest book in the Diana, Princess of Wales boardroom.
Staff gave the Prince a tour of Mildmay’s new purpose-built facilities including the 26-bed inpatient ward, where he spent time with some of Mildmay’s most vulnerable HIV patients. Staff shared stories about his mother’s numerous visits.
Mildmay’s lead chaplain, Sister Bernie Devine, said: “Harry has the same grace as Diana, he was just so interested in everyone, very genuine, very warm.”
Sister Devine was particularly impressed when the Prince asked her about the importance of spirituality at the end of life, and how it can make a difference. “It was clearly something that was very moving for him.”
Barry Harold Rowan, the first of the hospital’s volunteers to shake the Prince’s hand, said: “The whole experience took my breath away, I don’t know what else to say, I’ll never forget it.”
Next year Mildmay will celebrate 150 years of providing medical care to some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people in the UK. Thanks to the treatment that patients receive, the hospital sees 80 per cent of patients return to independent living after being discharged.
Mildmay’s work has also extended overseas. The hospital now supports more than 100,000 people living with HIV in east Africa by providing training, much-needed treatment and education to reduce the stigma that still surrounds the disease.
It has been a truly Royal couple of days for east London: last week Prince Charles attended Business in the Community’s annual general meeting in Stepney.