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St Paul’s service marks ‘year like no other’ for the NHS and country

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NHS staff who were on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19 will be at the heart of a special service of commemoration and thanksgiving to be held at St Paul’s Cathedral on Monday 5 July, the anniversary of the health service’s foundation. 

Dr Ashley Price, a member of the team who treated the very first patients with the virus in this country, and May Parsons, who administered the first vaccine outside of a trial, will take part in the socially distanced service.

Dr Perpetual Uke, a rheumatology consultant from Birmingham who gave birth to twins while in a coma with COVID-19, and Kathrine Dawson, who also gave birth and was in a coma with the virus and whose baby Ruby was born with it, will also have roles in the service.

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Led by the Very Reverend Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s and the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Dame Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London, it will recognise the dedication and commitment of all those who have played their part in combating coronavirus across the NHS, care sector and beyond.

Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, Saïd Professorship of Vaccinology at the Jenner Institute, who designed the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine and Professor Sir Peter Horby, who helped run the NHS trial that found the first effective treatment for COVID-19, dexamethasone, will be among those attending.

Actor Lydia West, and others who played a part in promoting vaccine uptake, will also be among guests.

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They will join NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis, and England’s Chief Nurse Ruth May among others.

NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “The NHS’s anniversary follows a uniquely challenging year for the health service and for the country.

“Twelve months ago, we all hoped the worst of coronavirus was behind us, but instead amazing NHS staff had to contend with a winter wave of infections even greater than the first.

“They rose to the challenge, not just providing care to coronavirus and other patients but, supported by volunteers and countless others, have also delivered the NHS COVID Vaccine programme with unrivalled speed and precision.

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“This service is an opportunity for the whole country to reflect on the toll the virus has taken since the start of the pandemic and give thanks to the nurses, doctors, therapists, paramedics and countless other NHS staff, other key workers and everyone else including all those members of the public who played their full part”.

The Right Reverend and Right Honourable Dame Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London, said: “In the last year we have felt the loss of connectivity to those we love.

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“We have been forced to distance ourselves physically, unable to reach out to family and friends with whom hugs, a hand reached out in care, an arm around a shoulder, would in other times convey love, closeness, compassion and care.

“The NHS is a demonstration of community and of solidarity in society, between generations, between rich and poor – and between people of diverse cultures and ethnic heritage.

“Through the generations, healthcare professionals from more than 200 nationalities have contributed to its workforce. This solidarity – of generations, of rich and poor and of people from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, is needed not just for a well-functioning society but to enable all human beings to flourish”.

People from all faiths and none have been invited and will attend, including Imam Yunus Dudhwala, Head of Chaplaincy at Barts Health NHS Trust, and representatives of humanist groups.

July 5 marks the 73rd anniversary of the foundation of the National Health Service.

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The NHS has provided hospital treatment for around 400,000 seriously ill COVID-19 patients, including 100,000 in January alone, since the start of the pandemic.

The NHS COVID-19 Vaccine programme, the biggest in health service history, was launched in the teeth of the coronavirus winter wave.

Since the NHS made history by giving Maggie Keenan the first Pfizer vaccination in December, the programme has delivered more than 63 million jabs, saving 14,000 lives and preventing 44,500 hospital admissions in England.

Kathrine Dawson, who received an emergency C-section giving birth at Blackpool Victoria Hospital to baby Ruby and spent eight days on a ventilator while being treated for COVID-19, said: “I am incredibly grateful to have met and been cared for by such amazing people.

“You, the people who work for the NHS, have made such a positive difference to me, my family, and the country. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts”.

Matthias Schmid, Head of the Department of Infection and Tropical Medicine at Newcastle Hospitals, said: “It is incredible to think that our team was the first in the country to treat the first COVID-19 patients.

“Although this was a new and emerging challenge we were ready for it and were hopeful that we could gain time for the rest of the NHS to introduce all the necessary changes required to face this pandemic.

“We’re very proud of the care we offered patients and the high standards of treatment delivered by the team during a hugely testing time”.

Dr Emily Lawson, NHS England’s Operational Lead for the NHS COVID-19 Vaccination programme who will also attend, said: “It is remarkable that so much has been achieved in such a difficult year.

“NHS staff, supported by volunteers and many others, have done a phenomenal job of vaccinating people, starting with those most at risk.

“However, we are not done yet and the best ‘birthday’ present you can give the NHS is to get a jab if you have not already done so – you are protecting yourself, your family and your friends”.

The service will follow national Thank You Day, organised by the Together Coalition, which takes place on 4 July.

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