On the eve of the third anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring a global Covid-19 pandemic (Friday 10th March 2023), we hosted a live-broadcast event, including a minute’s silence at 12 noon, to honour 75 years of service and sacrifice in the health and care workforce.
Staff and senior representatives from across the NHS were in attendance, including Chief Nursing Officer for England Dame Ruth May DBE, and the event featured a specially written dedication thanking NHS staff for 75 years of care, written and read by Heidi Thomas OBE – the writer and creator of Call The Midwife, and screenwriter of the recently released Allelujah. You can read Heidi’s full dedication here.
Held at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, the live-broadcast event was joined by NHS colleagues across the UK and featured personal testimonials from staff, including nurse Max, who has just celebrated his 50th year of service in the NHS, and the laying of blue heart wreaths. There were musical performances from Lewisham and Greenwich NHS choir and Dr Alex Aldren, the qualified doctor and opera singer known as Dr Opera.
Dame Ruth May DBE, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said:
“The last three years have been extremely challenging, and I am so grateful and proud of our health and social care workforce and the vital contribution they have all made during this time.
“While I have always known how remarkable our health and care professionals are, the pandemic shone an even brighter light on their extraordinary work. It is so important that we get together to reflect on this and the lasting impact the pandemic has had on so many.
“This year, as we also mark the 75th anniversary of the NHS, I’m grateful to have the chance to say thank you and acknowledge the contribution of every incredible colleague who has helped make the NHS what it is.”
Heidi Thomas OBE said:
“The National Health Service is the greatest idea this country has ever had, and its story has been written not in words, but the by the actions of its workers. There are nurses in my family, and I have seen at first hand the effort, compassion and sacrifice that go into delivering care from the cradle to the grave. Above all else, as a nation, we need to express our gratitude. It is a privilege to speak at this event, and to honour 75 years of extraordinary service by the NHS workforce.”
Max Oosman, a Community Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“I am now entering my 51st year of service in the NHS, and I’m the proudest nurse on earth. I began my career aged 19, after coming to England from Mauritius, and I’ve still got more to give. People ask me how I have stayed working for 51 years, but nursing is who I am. This is what drives me. Along the way I have learnt the impact we can all have on others, and continue to learn and improve daily. Our compassion can and does change people’s lives, so we must inspire each other to keep going.”
Caroline Duffy, a Theatre Nurse at Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, and one of Trust’s choir singers performing at the service, who was redeployed to the intensive care ward during the pandemic said:
“I was moved to work in intensive care in March 2020, it changed my outlook on nursing. When the doors shut, we had to hold our patients’ hands and be their family when their true family couldn’t visit. It was very, very difficult.
“It’s an honour to represent the NHS through the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS choir, giving others joy with our singing. The NHS is beautiful – while we are all ordinary individuals, when we join together it creates something truly special. The choir and its harmonies are a direct reflection of that.”
Other senior NHS representatives who attended included Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care Professor Deborah sturdy OBE, CEO NHS Race & Health Observatory Dr Habib Naqvi MBE, and Lord Nigel Crisp KCB, former NHS Chief Executive and NHS Charities Together patron.
Also in attendance at the event were Karen Bonner, Chief Nurse at Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, who discussed her experience losing a colleague and friend during the pandemic, and Karina Graham, a Paramedic at West Midlands Ambulance Service, who wrote a testimonial for the service explaining what it was like being on the ground during the pandemic, and her passion for caring for patients.
“I was lucky to know early on what I wanted to do with my life – to become a nurse. Working in this profession comes with great responsibility and huge privilege… But nothing could have prepared me or my colleagues for the reality of the pandemic. The worst thing imaginable happened, and one of my healthcare support workers lost his life to Covid-19. I also experienced a personal loss of a friend. This heartbreak has been felt so deeply by all of us during the pandemic, and it’s a pain that we will never ever forget.
“Today, and every day, I am grateful for my colleagues and the compassion they give. And I want to say thank you to all the courageous, tenacious, kind people, who make the NHS what it is.”
“At the core of our hearts, and job, is a passion for helping people. We provide comfort on people’s worst, life-altering days, and on their best days – delivering babies, bringing life into the world. It is a privilege to do it all but during the pandemic, for the first time, our jobs felt scary. I had a young family and I was so afraid of bringing the virus home. But we carried on, we had to.
“I don’t think I could have done it without my colleagues. It’s hard to describe the relationships between ambulance staff. You could have the worst job ever, but together we would get through it. I feel truly blessed to do my job, blessed to be part of this team, and to be there for every patient who calls on us.”
The event is part of our month long #WithAllOurHearts campaign, which raises awareness of the increasing need for support for NHS staff and the difference NHS charities can make to their health and wellbeing, while sharing stories about life on the frontline.
You can help support NHS staff by purchasing a blue heart pin badge in your nearest Starbucks store. Badges are a donation of £1 and all proceeds go to NHS Charities Together.