Dozens of landmarks across the UK will be illuminated in blue light on Saturday before the NHS’s 72nd anniversary amid calls that those who work in the health service deserve more than token gestures.
NHS England’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, said the past 12 months had represented “the most challenging year” in its history, and households across the UK have been invited to take to their doorsteps for a nationwide clap for NHS workers on Sunday.
Major public buildings including the Houses of Parliament, Blackpool Tower, the Shard and the Wembley arch will be illuminated in blue light, while a candle of remembrance will sit at St Paul’s Cathedral to commemorate the lives lost during the pandemic.
The Guardian has recorded 200 reported deaths of NHS and private healthcare staff from coronavirus, though the true figure is likely to be higher because not all deaths will be in the public domain.
Black, Asian and minority ethnic nurses, doctors and porters have been hardest hit after a lack of testing and shortages of personal protective equipment, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, often left healthcare workers exposed.
Stevens said: “It’s been the most challenging year in the history of the NHS and staff from across the health service have pulled out the stops like never before to deliver extraordinary care.
“From the domestic workers on the Covid-19 wards who have worked tirelessly to keep hospitals clean, to medical students heading the call for 111 call handlers and IT professionals working around the clock to keep services running, the NHS has mobilised to tackle this once in a lifetime global pandemic.”
The Keep Our NHS Public campaign, which is holding an online rally on Sunday, said: “During the coronavirus crisis in 2020, NHS and social care workers have been called upon to work on the frontline to keep us safe. They have often had to work without proper resources and PPE, within an already failing system. Many have been forced to sacrifice their lives.
“In the UK we have now reached the frightening number of excess deaths linked to coronavirus of 64,000 [up to 28 May], the second-highest death toll in the world. The NHS deserves better, we all deserve better. This is a damning indictment of recent government policy and its mishandling of our NHS.”
In 2018, tens of thousands of people marched through London to mark the NHS’s 70th anniversary and demand an end to government cuts and further privatisation of the health service.
Meanwhile, an NHS cadet pilot programme in Colchester, Hull and London launched to coincide with the service’s birthday also hopes to encourage thousands of marginalised teenagers into the health workforce.
Teenagers aged between 14 and 18 will be given first aid and leadership skills training and volunteer opportunities within the NHS in a partnership with St John Ambulance.
The programme, which aims to offer a route into employment for up to 10,000 young people by 2023, will be rolled out to Liverpool, Bradford, Hertfordshire and Wirral in the coming months.