Portuguese chef celebrates 50 years in the St Thomas’ kitchen

Louisa Batista began her job as a chef at St Thomas’ Hospital so long ago that news of The Beatles splitting up was still making the headlines.

The dedicated chef – who has never taken a sick day – is celebrating 50 years in the NHS

And she has no plans to hang up her apron.

Louisa Batista was 18 years old when she started working at St Thomas’ Hospital on July 7, 1970, just five days after arriving in the UK from Portugal.

Despite speaking little English, Louisa, pictured above, began working on the wards as a housekeeper before taking up a role in the catering department.

Louisa, from Vauxhall, said: “I used to serve drinks on the wards and patients would teach me the words for sugar, tea and coffee – it took more than a year until I could speak the language properly.

“I asked to transfer to the catering team because it was a Monday to Friday job and I wanted to go dancing at the weekend. When I started in the kitchen I watched everything they did and took notes.”

The 68-year-old prepares about 70 meals a day for patients who have a special diet, which involves working closely with the trust’s dieticians.

The mother-of-one said: “I enjoy every minute of it here. No two days are the same and I get to work with wonderful people. It’s a family and I love every one of them. I have no plans to retire – I will leave when they kick me out.

“So much has changed over the years, but you go along with it. The special diet menus now have a massive demand – from gluten free, vegan and puree meals, to Halal and Kosher – there really is something for everyone.

“I’ve come across some fussy patients who insist on only eating king prawns or fillet steak, but most of the time people are happy with what we have to offer.

“Despite the pandemic it’s been business as usual – although with extra precautions – because we still need to provide meals for sick patients.”

Louisa is known to pull out all the stops when it comes to caring for patients at the end of their lives.

She said: “If a patient is really poorly I go and meet them to find out what they would like to eat. If it’s something we don’t have in stock, then I’ll go out and buy it.”

Louisa’s long career also involved working in the trust’s hospitality team, providing a silver service for visitors at events.

She said: “It was wonderful. I love meeting people and chatting so I had a great time. I’m usually down in the kitchens so it was lovely to hear the positive feedback first hand.”

Louisa’s dedication to the NHS was recognised when she was chosen to represent the trust at a special service at Westminster Abbey when the NHS turned 70 in 2018.

Dr Ian Abbs, chief executive at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “I am incredibly grateful to Louisa for her 50 years of brilliant dedicated service and hard work – she is an inspiration to us all.

“Louisa is a fantastic member of the Guy’s and St Thomas’ family, and must be one of the longest serving NHS employees. I am so proud that she has chosen to spend her career here at Guy’s and St Thomas’.”

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