The Duke of Cambridge has paid tribute to the “extraordinary” efforts of NHS staff during the pandemic as he hosted a Buckingham Palace party in their honour.
William welcomed 28 specially selected health service workers – from nurses and cleaners to care workers and caterers – to the Queen’s official London home for the Big Tea event on the 73rd anniversary of the NHS.
He was without wife Kate who is self-isolating after coming into contact with a Covid sufferer, Kensington Palace announced earlier.
William made up for her absence by chatting to guests for an extra 30 minutes as he moved around five tables laid out in the palace’s garden.
The Queen gave the Cambridges permission to plan the event at the start of the year, heralding a small return to garden parties that have been cancelled since the pandemic began.
William told them: “I am delighted you could all come here and thank you. What you guys are doing on a daily basis is just extraordinary, I don’t know how you all keep it up, it’s been truly relentless.”
The duke met Suman Shrestha, who trained to be a nurse in 1997 and became the first Nepalese male nurse in the country.
He has worked in intensive care at Frimley Park Hospital since 2001 and during the pandemic, on top of caring for Covid patients, he also trained more than 400 redeployed doctors and nurses so they could help in intensive care.
Mr Shrestha, who like the other guests was nominated to attend by colleagues, said: “I am definitely one of the lucky ones today but each and every one of my colleagues is an utter hero, particularly after working through both waves of Covid.
“I’ve worked in intensive care for 20 years and it has been the most challenging, worrying time ever.
“I am fortunate to work with a fantastic group of individuals, I couldn’t have got through it without them so I am honoured to be representing them at the palace.”
After becoming joint patrons of NHS Charities Together last December, William and Kate came up with the idea of holding a special event to thank frontline workers on behalf of the nation.
The organisation became a household name during the pandemic following the efforts of the late Captain Sir Tom Moore, the Second World War veteran who raised more than £30 million for NHS Charities Together by walking 100 laps of his garden in Bedfordshire.
Millions more were raised by the public and around £125 million has already been allocated to healthcare organisations including local hospital trusts and mental health programmes.
The palace gathering was one of hundreds up and down the country after more than 5,000 people applied to hold their own Big Tea party in local streets, schools, sport clubs and churches as a way of thanking their local community heroes on the 73rd anniversary of the NHS.
Earlier in the day, the duke attended a thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral to celebrate the NHS milestone.
William also chatted to Tony Larks, 48, a first responder volunteer from Bracknell who joined South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust as a community first responder volunteer in 2020 in response to the Covid pandemic.
During the last year he has clocked up nearly 1,000 hours of voluntary service and has attended more than 250 emergency incidents, while also working full time as a graphic designer.
The duke said: “The immense pressure you are dealing with, but it’s fantastic you are able to help out in such a way.”
Mr Larks said later: “It’s been truly amazing to have met Prince William today and to recognise the amazing work of the NHS.
“I’m honoured and humbled to have the opportunity to work alongside NHS heroes and the work they do daily. It’s truly incredible.”