NHS lauded as ‘cornerstone of national life’ at Westminster Abbey ceremony

Around 1,500 guests filed into Westminster Abbey for the celebration (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
Around 1,500 guests filed into Westminster Abbey for the celebration (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The NHS has been praised as a “cornerstone of national life” during a special anniversary ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh were among the high-profile attendees at the event in London on Wednesday, which celebrated the NHS workforce 75 years since it was founded.

Both Mr Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer delivered lessons from the Bible, while Education Secretary Steve Barclay also thanked those who had supported and contributed to the service.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said in her address: “Since the day it was founded, the NHS has continually innovated and adapted to meet the changing needs of our patients and communities.

NHS 75th anniversary
Amanda Pritchard acknowledged the triumphs and difficulties of the NHS in recent years during her address (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

“Recent years have brought a once-in-a-century global health emergency and unprecedented challenges. But throughout, our staff, volunteers and partners up and down the country have continued to do what they do best – looking after patients and their loved ones.

“In doing so they provided a beacon of hope for a nation during dark and uncertain times. It is therefore little wonder that the NHS remains the institution that makes our nation most proud to be British – a cornerstone of national life and our shared identity.”

The service opened with a procession that included the Duke and Duchess – Prince Edward and wife Sophie – and the George Cross, presented to the NHS last year by the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Speeches were given by Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, the UK’s first sickle cell nurse specialist, and Ellie Orton OBE, chief executive of NHS Charities Together, before the entire abbey stood to sing hymns.

Mr Sunak and Sir Keir’s readings were followed by Ms Pritchard’s address to the 1,500 attendees from the pulpit.

NHS 75th anniversary
The Prime Minister and Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh attended the service (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Dean of Westminster the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle said in his sermon: “The 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.”

Thanks and prayers were given by Mr Barclay and other leading health figures, while paediatric specialists Dr Martin English and Dr Michael Griksaitis told the story of NHS staff extracting Ukrainian children with cancer to the UK from Poland, following the invasion of their country by Russia.

A final singalong of God Save The King rounded off the service, with the abbey bells ringing loudly as guests filed out.