NHS staff will be part of history this weekend after being selected to attend events to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla.
Two hundred staff will have prime seats for tomorrow’s procession (Saturday 6 May) in recognition of the dedication, service and impact of hundreds of thousands of NHS staff and volunteers over its 75-year history – with a special grandstand set up near Buckingham Palace giving them a unique view of Their Majesties The King and Queen Consort leaving for Westminster Abbey, and returning in the Gold State Coach after officially being crowned.
They will also be able to see the appearance of the Royal Family on the Palace balcony, and the spectacular Armed Forces fly past.
To represent the health service, chief executive Amanda Pritchard will be attending the Coronation Ceremony at Westminster Abbey, as well as paramedic Chris Bell, who attended the first Covid patient in the UK in 2020.
Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu will play a key role in the ceremony, carrying the gold Sovereign Orb. Dame Elizabeth first started working with the NHS as a school nurse assistant in Wolverhampton aged 16, and went on to become the first sickle cell nurse specialist in the UK, devoting her career to working with black and minority ethnic communities in London, and recognised as one of the 70 most influential nurses and midwives in the history of the NHS when the health service marked its 70th anniversary.
Individuals who have been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) have also been invited to the ceremony.
The following day, on the evening of Sunday 7 May, 50 more NHS staff from around the country will attend the Coronation Concert, held at Windsor Castle, where they will enjoy entertainment from acts including Take That, Olly Murs, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, Tom Cruise and Winnie the Pooh.
A 300-strong Coronation Choir will also perform at the concert, including members of Hull’s NHS choir, and Emma Withey, a housekeeper at Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and member of UNIFY Choir, an all-deaf sign performance group and only deaf choir in the UK.
And Trusts across the country will be helping patients, staff and volunteers get in the coronation spirit, with some holding tea parties and serving Coronation quiche, screening the Coronation and concert on Sunday, and miles of bunting decorating corridors and receptions.
King’s College London will be celebrating with treats for staff as well as a special Coronation high tea for inpatients tomorrow, while children at Evelina London Children’s Hospital have been preparing by creating crowns, artwork and play dough cupcakes, and the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry hosted a tea party for local veterans in their Headley Court Veterans’ Orthopaedic Centre.
NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard, who will be attending the Coronation at Westminster Abbey tomorrow, said: “It is an extraordinary honour to be asked to attend the Coronation service on behalf of the NHS. For so many health service staff to be invited to be part of this historic occasion shows the huge amount of respect and admiration the Royal Family has for the NHS and the work our dedicated staff do.
“As we start a new chapter for the country with the coronation of His Majesty King Charles, we are also looking to the future of the health service and the opportunities ahead of us, while reflecting on the incredible history and achievements of our organisation – and our staff and volunteers – over the past 75 years.
“From Britain’s first heart transplant in 1958, pioneering new treatments such as bionic eyes and, in more recent times, the world’s first rapid whole genome sequencing service for seriously ill babies and children, and rolling out the biggest and fastest vaccination programme in NHS history during the Covid pandemic, the health service has always adapted to meet the changing needs of the country, and will continue to do so to ensure local care is fit for the future.”
Chris Bell, paramedic and A&E operations team leader in York, said: “The thought of being invited to the King’s Coronation hadn’t even crossed my mind.
“It is a huge honour to represent Yorkshire Ambulance Service and the ambulance service as a whole.”
It is not the first royal performance for Emma Withey, who works at Bloxwich Hospital, with UNIFY Choir performing at the Big Jubilee Street Party for the Platinum Jubilee last year.
Of their upcoming performance at Windsor Castle on Sunday, Emma said: “I was thrilled when I first found out that we were invited to perform at the coronation.
“I’m so excited that we will be performing in front of the Royals and people from all over the world will be watching on television, it feels amazing to be representing the NHS and my Trust at such an historic occasion.
“Our performance at the concert is so important because representation matters and it’s a way for the deaf community to feel valued and seen.”
More than 20,000 NHS workers entered the ballot for places at the procession and concert this weekend, with entries numbered and chosen at random.
Caitlin Adeniyi-Jones, an emergency department nurse at Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, will be in the grandstand outside the Palace with her mum, Bernice – a “massive fan” of the Royal Family. Caitlin said: “I have been working as a nurse since 2019 now, and have mostly been working in emergency departments caring for trauma patients – it is tough, but I can be there to try and make what might be the worst day of someone’s life a bit better and provide them some comfort.
“I couldn’t believe it when I found out I was going to the procession. My mum is a massive fan of the Royal Family, so I am taking her and we are both really excited.”
Julie Holowko started at Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport, in 1982 and has worked as a midwife for more than 40 years, delivering hundreds of babies.
Julie said: “I am now looking after pregnant women who I helped deliver when they were babies, and one of the midwives I was a student of I’m on call to help deliver her daughter’s child – the baby is due in June, so I am confident I won’t miss the concert! I am really looking forward to seeing Lionel Richie at the concert this weekend, and hoping he sings my favourite song of his, Hello.”
Urgent and emergency services will continue to be available on the Bank Holiday, including urgent dental and GP appointments, to enable the public to access NHS services the way they do every bank holiday, including through 111 online and 999 services in an emergency.
The NHS is asking patients to choose services appropriately over the bank holiday, to attend any planned appointments unless contacted otherwise, and to take simple steps to help ensure care is available to patients who need it most. This includes using 111 online as the first port of call for health needs, and only using 999 if it is a life-threatening emergency.
The Coronation festivities come during what is already a year of celebration and reflection for the NHS as it marks its 75th year, as the health service looks back on its achievements and the opportunities that lie ahead.
As part of the NHS 75 activities being held throughout the year, people will get the chance to see the George Cross – the UK’s highest civilian gallantry medal – awarded to the health service last year, as it tours science museums around England from July.
The medal was first announced by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the NHS’s 73rd birthday, and recognises the “courage, compassion and dedication” of NHS staff and volunteers during the pandemic, as well as the work of the NHS since it was established in 1948. It is only the third time in British history the medal has been granted to an organisation rather than an individual, and the NHS in each of the four nations received their own George Cross.