Decorated nurses, health leaders and the prime minister were among high-profile guests attending a service in London today honouring 75 years of the NHS.
The ceremony, held at Westminster Abbey, was run by Dean of Westminster Dr David Hoyle, who “saluted” the achievements of all NHS staff over its three-quarters of a century in existence.
Among the speakers at the event were England chief nursing officer (CNO) Dame Ruth May, prime minister Rishi Sunak, leader of the opposition Keir Starmer, NHS England chief executive officer Amanda Pritchard, health and social care secretary Steve Barclay, and the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh.
Around 1,500 NHS staff were also invited to attend including a number of nurses.
Senior nurse May Parsons carried the George Cross into the Abbey as part of a procession, flanked by Kyle Dean-Curtis, a 17-year-old St John Ambulance cadet, and 91-year-old Enid Richmond, who was one of the first people to work in the NHS as a junior clerical worker.
Ms Parsons administered the world’s first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in 2020, and was handed the George Cross by Queen Elizabeth II last year.
Retired nurse Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, a pioneer of sickle cell and thalassaemia specialist nursing, gave a testimony to the people present.
She said at the lectern: “It is an honour to be able to represent the millions of our colleagues who have served the NHS since the launch in 1948, today’s workforce and all of those who are in training to be the workforce of the future. Thank you.”
In his sermon, Dr Hoyle described the creation of the NHS in 1948 as “building Jerusalem”.
“Make no mistake it was not easy in 1948,” he added.
“The rows, the frustration, the compromises were many and they were complex. Many and complex then, many and complex since.
“Building Jerusalem, naming your hope and turning hope into reality, that is a hard thing to do.
“It goes on being hard. We have to say that. Today we have to say something about almost insurmountable difficulty and extravagant hope.”
He added: “NHS is not important just because it stands the test of time. It matters because it says something about who we want to be.
“This is more than history today, more than ambition. Today is all about our hope, about our belief.”
Ms Pritchard, in a foreword to the service, wrote of the various technological strides the NHS has facilitated, and paid tribute to what she described as “a beacon of hope for a nation during dark and uncertain times”.
She said: “Today we come together to celebrate 75 years of our National Health Service, and all those past and present who have contributed to it.
“Since the day it was founded, the NHS has continually innovated and adapted to meet the changing needs of our patients and communities.
“It has operated at the leading edge of science, delivering advances – from heart and lung transplants and IVF, to bionic eyes and whole genome sequencing tests – which have benefited, and will continue to benefit, millions of people here and worldwide.”
Ms Pritchard said the NHS made British people proud to be British, and further described it as “a cornerstone of national life and our shared identity”.
Meanwhile, prime minister Mr Sunak added: “The NHS has been there for all of us for 75 years, taking care of us through the toughest times but also through moments of joy and hope – like the arrival of a new baby or ringing that bell to say you’ve finished your cancer treatment.
“It is woven through the story of our lives, and the story of our nation. For me it means family.
“My father was a GP and my mother ran a local pharmacy. As a child I saw their dedication to caring for their patients and I realised that the NHS was a powerful statement of how much we all care for one another.”
The prime minister added that he wanted the anniversary to be a time to thank NHS workers past and present.
He further said: “But it is also a moment to look forward – to pledge that we will support the NHS to keep delivering and keep making us proud for another 75 years and beyond.
“I am determined that is what we will do.”
Excerpts from the bible were read out by the prime minister, leader of the opposition and Ms Pritchard, while prayers were read by Mr Barclay, CNO Dame Ruth and other NHS leaders.
Speaking ahead of the event, Dame Ruth said: “The NHS has truly been built upon the millions of hardworking NHS staff and volunteers who have shaped its course over the last three-quarters of a century, constantly innovating and adapting to the new challenges they have faced.
“As well as the service, there are countless events and special moments over the next week which everyone can get involved with, whether it be local parkrun events or the lighting up of over 150 landmark sites across the country, with many opportunities to not only look back on all that the NHS has achieved but also to look ahead to what new opportunities and innovations we can grasp in our next 75 years.”
A special parkrun event was held today for the NHS 75 around St James’s Park, London, with Dame Ruth being the ‘official starter’ of the race. Among others taking part were 22 MPs including health minister Will Quince.
Towards the end of the service in the Abbey, representatives of the Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths were offered the chance to say words of blessings to the NHS, before the procession left the Abbey and hymns were sung.