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Royal Free Charity volunteer recognised at Health Hero

Royal Free Charity volunteer John Gaunt was honoured last night for his tireless work as a dementia companion at the Royal Free Hospital.

John did not take home the top honour but received praised from Prime Minister Theresa May who thanked him for his commitment to supporting those in need. Mr Gaunt said, “It’s an honour to be nominated alongside these 4 NHS heroes.”

At an age when others might be easing back a bit, John, 89, spends two days a week as a volunteer on the dementia ward at the Royal Free.

It’s demanding work, requiring skill and kindness combined with dedication and energy. John displays all of these attributes and this is why his colleagues nominated him for the Health Hero Awards.

John goes to great lengths to treat each patient as an individual, taking the time to get to find out about them and help to bring back memories and connect with that person.

John uses skills like listening, talking, singing and even dancing - whatever it takes to put patients at ease.

"His charisma and charm truly brighten up the ward" says Danielle Wilde, Dementia Lead at the Royal Free Trust.

"John is one of the most interesting and energetic colleagues I have ever worked with and the staff look forward to his visits as much as the patients do."

"He’s simply the best, I get more positive feedback about John than anyone." said Richard Scarth, Operations Manager for the Royal Free Charity, who nominated John for the award.

John arrives for his shift at 9am and although he should clock off at 1pm is often still working late into the afternoon.

"I’m not going to dash off home just because my shift is over," he says. "I go when I feel I have done what I can with my patients." Officially he works two days a week, but sometimes ends up working more.

John, who lost his wife Betty to Parkinson’s and cancer in 2000, was inspired to become a volunteer after visiting the hospital for radiotherapy for his prostate cancer four years ago.

"When I went in for my treatment I saw a sign asking for volunteers and thought, I could do that”.

The retired illustrator used to run his own stationery business, and adds: "When I was in business I would go home asking myself why do I do this? But now I leave knowing I’ve helped make a real difference. It’s the best thing I have ever done."

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