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  1. ITV Report

The nurses celebrating five decades of friendship thanks to the NHS

As the National Health Service celebrates its 70th birthday on Thursday, two former nurses are celebrating a 53-year friendship which began when they joined the service as trainees in 1965.

Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu and Sue Rees were born a day apart, one year after the NHS was founded, and have enjoyed a friendship that has coincided with their long careers in the health service.

To mark the anniversary, Elizabeth shared photographs of the pair at the start of their NHS careers and now. The tweet has been retweeted 4,600 times and received over 20,000 likes.

Speaking to ITV News, the pair shared the extraordinary story of their prevailing friendship through years of health service progression and change.

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  • The friendship

The pair met each other when they were 18-years-old, while training to be nurses at Paddington General Hospital and while they never ended up working together, they remained best friends.

After graduating they worked in the same hospital but had different jobs and eventually their careers went in different directions.

Their liberal views laid the foundations for their friendship, their love of crosswords cemented the bond and a great sense of humour meant they flourished as friends for life.

"I knew we would be great friends, not only because we were both socialists but we used to have a lot of fun too. We would often spend our class time doing crosswords from the Guardian," said Sue.

The two nurses (top row, second and third from right) met at nurse training in 1965. Credit: Elizabeth Anionwu

When they met at training they instantly clicked because, as Elizabeth says, they were the only ones on the course who "didn't take life seriously".

"I remember that's why I became friends with you so quickly was that you had a brilliant sense of humour and you didn't take life as seriously as some people took it and that was my attitude as well," she told Sue.

Sue added: "The other thing was, we were both curious and have always liked people and I learned a lot about people doing nursing and health visiting."

  • The highs and lows of the NHS

Despite the highs and the lows of their nursing careers, Sue and Elizabeth say if they had the choice, they would still choose nursing.

They met while training at Paddington General Hospital. Credit: Elizabeth Anionwu

Elizabeth said: "The worst low for me was at the beginning of my training, my first death, because I was 18, I'd never been in London before, never seen a dead body and I'd lived a very sheltered life and it really shook me actually."

While daunting at first, her early experience never deterred her passion for the NHS and she dedicated her life to the profession of nursing. She was awarded a CBE in 2001 before becoming a Dame at the end of 2016.

She said: "The NHS means security to me, it means fairness, and I love the history of the NHS, I love how there were battles fought to get it."

The picture of the two young nurses was retweeted over 4,500 times. Credit: Elizabeth Anionwu

Sue shares the same passion for the NHS and was reminded of her appreciation of the service when she received treatment herself five years ago.

While the NHS' day-to-day treatment of patients brings Sue a sense of pride, its the landmark breakthroughs, such as the first abortion bill in 1967, that she thinks of when recounting health service high points.

Looking back on their time in the NHS, both agree the experience was "fun", "fantastic", "heart-warming" and "nerve-racking".