"An experience I will always remember" - Healthwatch Cheshire at the NHS70 Celebration
As part of the NHS 70th birthday celebrations a special commemorative event was held at Westminster Abbey to recognise the work and history of the NHS. Current Healthwatch Cheshire board member George Loughlin and former board member Brendan Doyle attended the event. Below is George’s account of the day.
Well what a day!
An early start at Crewe Station with us on the platform by 8am. The train arrived on time, I got on board and found my seat, settled back with the sun shining, all was well with the world. As we got closer to London we slowed down and then stopped. Further down the line some poor soul had committed suicide. This put the whole day in perspective, somebody so desperate and in need of health and social care.
We arrived at Westminster Abbey just after 11am. The chandeliers are shining and there is a buzz of chatter as we move towards our seats. We are on the second row just in front of the organ screen. Lots of people are sat, all smartly dressed with some in their NHS uniforms. I stood up and started to take some photographs until a lady in abbey robes in a loud voice said “Photographs are not allowed sir, please sit down.” I suspect she had been a matron in a former life, but although I had read the order of service I had made the school boy error of not reading the note that said photography was not allowed.
Brendan and I chatted as we people watched. The dignitaries started to arrive; MPs, Ministers, CEOs, amongst others. The clergy started to appear, more people in scarlet robes and the Dean of Westminster. Then the first of the principle guests processed up the aisle. The organ started to play with a great sound to welcome clergy from other faiths, the High Sheriff of Greater London, the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Greater London and the Lord Mayor of Westminster and Deputy High Steward. At 12 noon the Countess of Wessex arrived and the Great West Door was closed and the whole Abbey fell silent.
The Choir and Clergy had all gathered around the West Door, and after a few moments of stillness they began to sing. To say it was magical would be an understatement. The sound rang around the abbey while the procession formed and we all sang the hymn ‘Praise my soul the King of Heaven’. As you see on television the choir, the clergy, officers and the Countess of Wessex all passed by; so close we could almost touch them. The service was wonderful and we found it to be very personal and respectful with three testimonies.
The first testimony was by Olive Belfield who had become a nurse before the National Health Service was created. The second by Freya Lewis, a young lady injured in the Manchester Arena Bombing, who spoke very movingly of her injuries and her thanks to all of the NHS staff who had treated her. Freya finished by saying “I love you all”, at which point the whole congregation burst into spontaneous applause and I could see a few of the nurses sat opposite dabbing away a tear or two.
The service continued with more fantastic hymns and singing by the choir. Then came the blessing and as if in a flash it was all over. The great and the good processed back out of the Abbey and we watched and waited for our turn to leave. Like naughty school boys Brendan and I nipped to the back and joined the others leaving. As we left through the West Door the bells were ringing and there was just a sea of happy smiling faces everywhere.
As I stood outside the Abbey surrounded by so many people all I could feel was elation. There was such a feeling of positivity, confidence, care, love and compassion; truly the real medicine of the NHS. I decided to walk in the sunshine, headed for the tube rather than a taxi, and returned home.
It had been a long day, a hot day, but a day of many experiences and one I will always remember, if only to say I was there.