A massage therapist was made an MBE at the end of last month after decades spent helping patients at a London hospital.
Keith Hunt, 63, of Heathcote Grove in Chingford, was presented with the prestigious honour by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace for 20 years spent providing complementary therapy to patients of the Royal Free London Hospital.
The grandfather-of-three was named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in June 2012 but he was only presented with the award at the end of January.
He said: “It feels amazing. I’m over the moon. It was a beautiful day, but very nerve-racking. Prince Charles was very charming.
“It’s lovely to be recognised for doing something you love. It’s great for massage therapists everywhere and it underlines our skills and credibility.”
Mr Hunt said he was surprised to get the letter last April after spending eight years as a voluntary complementary therapist at the hospital before taking the job as a full-time paid employee 12 years ago.
He started at the hospital 46 years ago running the sports centre, providing massages to patients suffering stress between shifts, but was made a paid member of staff after his patient load increased to more than 2,000 a year.
Now he has his own department with five part-time staff and 16 volunteers, who help him treat 21,000 people a year at the hospital and in patients’ homes.
Mr Hunt said: “At the moment our youngest is 11 and our oldest is 101 so it’s people of all ages. We tend to help people who have found their treatment a shock to the system, especially a lot of chemo and radiotherapy patients.
“We try and make their day a bit brighter. Often we’re a friend to those who feel scared and lonely.”
But Mr Hunt admitted it is a struggle to find funding for his department at a time when the NHS is cutting budgets.
He said: “It’s so difficult to raise the money. We get about £50,000 from the Royal Free charity and then we write begging letters for the other £50,000.
“It’s not as important as other essential wards but we do a lot of good so it’s worth the struggle to find money.”