The Duke of Cambridge has paid tribute to a “much loved” nurse who died after contracting Covid-19 as he urged NHS executives to speak out about mental health. William passed on his condolences after Estrella Catalan, 52, died earlier this month at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) where she had worked for 18 years. The duke’s words of sympathy came when he joined the weekly meeting of the East of England’s NHS leadership, and he highlighted the importance of health bosses talking about mental wellbeing to encourage their workforce to “feel emboldened and inspired to also take it seriously”.
He also said the nation faced a “very big waterfall of mental health issues” in the future and asked the executives about their own wellbeing.
Speaking during the video meeting held on Wednesday, he said: “I also want to just sort of pass on my thoughts to all of you and your teams about Estrella Catalan, who I believe was a much loved member of most of your teams and had been in the region for a long time at I think King’s Lynn and N and N (Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital).
“And I imagine that’s hit everyone very hard so I’m very sorry to hear that, and my thoughts from my family are all with all of you who knew her and her family.”
In moving scenes, Mrs Catalan was interviewed from her hospital bed last month by the BBC and cried as she explained she only wanted to return to her patients: “I want to help. But I don’t know when.
“I don’t mind working and doing even extra shifts to help the trust, but I’m here as a patient. I’m helpless.”
Ann Radmore, regional director of NHS England and NHS Improvement – East of England, led the meeting of around 35 senior NHS leaders who included Sam Higginson, chief executive of the NNUH where the nurse worked.
After the meeting, she said about the duke: “He mentioned her death to us, and I think that was very appropriate and helpful actually, because she was a much loved member of staff over in Norfolk.”
William worked as a helicopter pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance ending his two-year stint in 2017 and is likely to have ferried patients to the NNUH, but had not met the nurse.
He paid tribute to the NHS staff he had worked alongside, saying he held them in “high esteem” and told everyone at the meeting they were performing a “brilliant, brilliant job”.
Ms Catalan, believed to be originally from the Philippines, joined the Norwich-based trust in September 2002 and worked as a staff nurse on the Gunthorpe and Heydon wards, and with the emergency department and acute stroke team.
According to a GoFundMe page created in her honour, which has raised more than £35,000 for her family, Mrs Catalan is survived by her husband Melvin and their sons John and Josh – adding that her eldest son Vince died two years ago.
William voiced his concerns about the mental health support for executives around the virtual table when he inquired “who’s asking you how you’re doing?”, and speculated it was probably “quite difficult” to find the time to ask after each other during a busy video conference.
After the private meeting, during which the duke was told about initiatives to support the mental wellbeing of NHS staff and patients, he said: “I’m pleased to hear the mental health processes are taken very seriously and as I said at the beginning, anything that you as CEOs can do to share your concerns, worries, mental health – whether positive, whether poor – would be a really big thing as well after this.
“You know, it leads from the top down as well as the bottom up. And so if any of you can shed light or be involved in that, it really opens the door that allows your workforce to feel emboldened and inspired to also take it seriously.”
The duke also said: “As you know I’m trying to champion, trying to tackle the taboo and the stigma around mental health and my conversations so far up and down the country with your colleagues in the NHS has starkly shown – as Ann pointed out – we’re facing a very big waterfall of mental health issues coming up.”
Expanding on the the Duke’s “waterfall” comment, Ms Radmore, speaking after the call, said for patients the pandemic will have “exacerbated some people’s mental health problems, and may have created some new mental health problems”.
While NHS staff will have been through an “incredibly battering process” and the aim was to help them understand and articulate what has happened as part of their recovery, and then move forward.