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Westminster Abbey celebrates 75 years of the NHS

by Heather Preston

Wednesday marked the 75th anniversary of the National Health Service - founded in 1948, with the aim of providing free healthcare to all in the UK.

1,500 people - mostly NHS staff - gathered for a special ceremony at Westminster Abbey, in which the National Health Service was praised as a "cornerstone of national life".

The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh were also in attendance, together with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer - both of whom delivered scriptures from the Bible.

The George Cross - awarded to the NHS by the late Queen in 2022 in recognition of its exceptional service - was placed on the alter by May Parsons, the nurse who administered the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine.

Speaking in her address, Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, spoke of the continuously innovative and adaptive strength of the NHS and its health care professionals, to "meet the changing needs of our patients and communities" even in the face of unprecedented challenges and a global pandemic.

She praised staff, volunteers and partners of the service for providing "a beacon of hope for a nation during dark and uncertain times".

Delivering the sermon, Dean of Westminster the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle emphasised the NHS as a display of who the British people want to be.

"This is more than history today; more than ambition. Today is all about our hope - about our belief," he said.

"Born of the radical conviction that we must care for one another, the NHS sets before us all the better angels of our nature. Here is high principle translated into best practice."

The Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust in Truro held its own celebration to honour its health care professionals - complete with Cornish pasties, a choir performance and tributes from the Trust's chief executive and head chaplain.

The hospital's senior chaplain Sarah Chaplin tells Premier she's grateful to be part of such a wonderful organisation.

"Where would we be without the NHS?  At every sphere of life, the NHS is there."

Speaking of the privilege of 75 years of free healthcare, she added: "We've got so much to be thankful for today, personally within our families and within our communities...

we're very blessed."

Chaplin is one of five chaplains providing 24-hour support to patients and their loved ones at the Royal Cornwall Hospital.  She says she was drawn to the profession after visiting a chaplain whilst her mother battled terminal cancer.

"In my time of distress, we had massive support and comfort from a chaplain, and I hope, in some small way, I've been able to replicate that scenario by the bedside of 1000s more patients."

Meanwhile, following rising waiting lists and mounting financial pressures, three think tanks have warned the NHS won't reach its 100th birthday without further investment.  Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden insisted that's what the government is doing.

Chaplin tells Premier positive changes are needed to ensure a brighter future for the health service:

"I would like to make sure that people can get their surgery on time... I would love to see more funding available.  I would love to see all the job vacancies filled and youngsters taking apprenticeships and training posts, so that we raise up the next generation of healthcare workers that can change the world."

(images provided by Reuters)

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