A minute’s silence has been held to mark the third anniversary of the Covid pandemic being declared and to remember NHS staff who died.
Opening the memorial service at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on Friday, the Rev Paul Nash said staff were the “beating heart” of the NHS and the public “won’t ever forget what you have done for us”.
Saturday marks three years since the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic, during which hundreds of NHS staff died, with one paramedic saying it was “the first time our jobs felt dangerous”.
This year’s service also coincides with the 75th anniversary of the founding of the NHS.
Max Oosman, a 70-year-old community mental health nurse practitioner for Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, attended the service in his 51st year as a nurse.
He has worked for the NHS since coming to the UK from Mauritius aged 19, but said the pandemic was “like a war zone”.
“We’d never experienced anything like this before and the pandemic just hit us,” he said.
“It felt like we were in a war zone and it was very traumatic for us, but we were all in it together and that was the overriding feeling. We had to do it.
“We didn’t know what the future held, and it was a very dark place, it was the unknown.
“I’ve dealt with death and a lot of trauma, but not to that extent. This was unprecedented, we didn’t know how to react, we just had to be there.”
The service, attended by members of NHS England and NHS Wales, NHS trusts, ambulance services and other care bodies, featured testimonies from NHS staff, readings and performances.
Many guests shed tears during the laying of 12 wreaths to remember those who died.
Dame Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said: “It’s an opportunity to acknowledge the impact the pandemic has had on our lives and communities.
“My thoughts are with every person who lost someone in the pandemic and all those for whom life has changed profoundly.
“I know the pandemic has had a lasting impact on our profession and others. It remains a challenging time.
“I have never been prouder to be a nurse and to be part of the incredible work that we do.”
The remembrance service was organised by NHS Charities Together, a national group supporting more than 230 charities in providing support for health workers across the country.
The group has to date provided £146 million of funding to NHS services.
Ellie Orton, chief executive of the body, said public donations are vital to provide equipment and peer support for a variety of health staff, and added that the pandemic continues to have wide-ranging impacts.
She said: “This is the most challenging time that our health and care workforce have worked in, and so being able to stop, to thank and to honour and remember the service and sacrifice of our incredible workforce is really important.
“The pandemic continues to have an incredible impact on the health service, not just in the backlog of patients but also on the mental health of staff.
“Our recent surveys have shown that half of the workforce is suffering from anxiety, half from physical exhaustion because they are just working so hard, and a quarter from depression, so it’s really important to do the event today, but also (commemorate) the incredible generosity of our amazing public.”