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Prince William arrives at St Paul’s service to mark NHS (national Health Service) birthday

The Duke of Cambridge has arrived at St Paul’s Cathedral for a ceremony honouring the 73rd anniversary of the NHS.

He had been due to appear with the Duchess of Cambridge, but after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus Kate was unable to attend.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was seated socially distanced from other guests including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey.

The Duke of Cambridge arrives at the NHS service
The Duke of Cambridge arrives at the NHS service (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Before the service, the opposition party leaders spoke for a few minutes before taking their seats at the front of the cathedral as organ music played.Deputy chief medical officer for England Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis and NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens were also seated at the front, ahead of rows of socially distanced frontline NHS staff, volunteers and carers.

The service will celebrate their contribution to the country during the pandemic.

PM at NHS 73rd birthday
Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at the ceremony (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

Later, William will host the NHS Big Tea in the gardens of Buckingham Palace to pay tribute to the work of NHS staff who have gone above and beyond in tackling the pandemic.

He will meet staff ranging from respiratory ward nurses, counsellors and care workers, to those working in non-clinical roles including catering managers and housekeeping co-ordinators.

The NHS Big Tea is organised by NHS Charities Together and is a national celebration of the health service, offering the opportunity for communities to come together for a moment of reflection and to thank staff and volunteers for the role they have played throughout the pandemic.

The event hosted by the duke and duchess is one of thousands of Big Teas taking place on Monday in homes, hospitals, schools and community spaces across the UK.

Alexandra Heys, nurse ward manager in the respiratory high care unit at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The special tea at Buckingham Palace means a lot to NHS staff who have been through so much over the last year, and I feel so honoured to be meeting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge today.

“I know from personal experience that the past year has taken a huge toll on NHS staff who have worked incredibly hard to take care of patients during a challenging time.

“My team at the respiratory high care unit has cared for over 300 very sick Covid patients, all of whom required dedicated around-the-clock care.

Chris Whitty at St Paul's
Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty takes his seat (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

“All NHS staff have gone above and beyond, providing additional care in difficult circumstances, including connecting isolated and very sick patients with their families in their most challenging moments.

“We have all been through a lot, so seeing the public get behind the NHS Big Tea on such as massive scale is an immense boost and really makes a difference.”

England footballer Jordan Henderson, who helped put his team through to the Euro 2020 semi-finals, said NHS staff are the “real heroes”.

Henderson, appointed an Official NHS Charities Together Champion in January following his creation of the #PlayersTogether initiative, said: “After the last 16 months, this nation owes so much to the NHS and the least we can do this July is encourage everybody to express their collective gratitude for that selfless support.

“We know as footballers we are often the ones being looked up to, but this is about the real heroes so, from all of us associated with the England football teams, we raise our mugs for the NHS Big Tea with a simple message – thank you.”

The Crown actress Olivia Colman said: “As ever, I am tremendously grateful for our heroic NHS, but even more so following this very peculiar year.

“We are so lucky to have our NHS, and today we will celebrate its 73rd birthday. There is much to celebrate, but also much to be aware of as we try to recover from the past year.

“It’s our turn to care for our NHS staff and show them all the love and respect we can, by raising money for the support NHS Charities Together provides.”

NHS Charities Together is the independent national charity partner of the NHS and an umbrella organisation made up of 240 NHS member charities based within hospitals, mental health trusts, ambulance trusts, community health trusts and health boards across the UK.

William and Kate became its joint patrons in December 2020.

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