Nationwide clap and Spitfire flypast mark 72nd anniversary of NHS

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia

A nationwide round of applause has taken place to mark the 72nd anniversary of the NHS after what has been the most challenging year in the health service's history.

People across the UK clapped to commemorate the efforts of all key workers and volunteers during the pandemic.

The initiative follows the success of the weekly Clap for Carers, and it is hoped the applause will become an annual tradition.

A Spitfire with the message “Thank U NHS” painted on its underside flew over several NHS hospitals in the east of the country, finishing over Cambridge.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was joined outside 10 Downing Street by Annemarie Plas, the woman who started the weekly Thursday night applause during the first 10 weeks of lockdown.

Annemarie Plas started clap for carers at the beginning of lockdown. Credit: PA

Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson met NHS workers in the Number 10 garden.

On Saturday night, public buildings including the Royal Albert Hall, Blackpool Tower and the Shard were lit up blue in tribute to the health service and people were encouraged to hold a minute's silence in memory of those who have died.

On Saturday night, landmarks were lit up blue in tribute to the NHS. Credit: PA

More than 100,000 hospital inpatients have been treated for Covid-19 in the UK, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, along with many more who suffered with the virus at home.

Members of the armed forces constructed eight NHS Nightingale hospitals within weeks, which are all now being held on standby.

The government’s latest figures showed that 44,220 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Saturday.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said hospital workers have only been able to pull the country through the pandemic thanks to a “national mobilisation” of all key workers, from care assistants and supermarket shelf-stackers to transport workers.

The Spitfire had 'Thank U NHS' written on it Credit: Aircraft Restoration Company

Sir Simon said the NHS’s anniversary is an opportunity to thank these key workers.

He said: “I think for NHS there will be a sense of relief, having coming through this huge first spike of coronavirus patients, but also people have been working incredibly hard.

“So there’s a need to take a moment to reflect and recharge the batteries while at the same time doing all the other brilliant things that the health service does.

“This is a huge national effort and the NHS is hugely grateful for all the support it has received from all of the rest of the country.”

Sir Simon warned the NHS could have another “enormous job on our hands” if a second virus spike sweeps the UK at the same time as seasonal flu, and urged people to continue observing social distancing.

He said: “Going into autumn and winter, we are going to have to continue to be vigilant about the possible resurgence of coronavirus.

“Until such time as there is a vaccine, we know that it will be lurking across the world.”

The Round Tower at Windsor Castle was illuminated blue on Friday evening. Credit: PA

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited a hospital in Norfolk to mark the NHS's birthday.

William and Kate met staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, 72 years to the day since the creation of the health service.

The royal couple shared afternoon tea with doctors, nurses and other staff at the hospital which will celebrate its own 40th birthday later this month.

Ahead of the clap, tributes have been pouring in for the health service, including from the prime minister, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Prince Charles.

Mr Johnson paid tribute to the NHS following the "greatest challenge the NHS has ever faced" in treating the public for coronavirus.

The PM said the work of the NHS in the past year has led to "an unprecedented outpouring of affection".

Charles said: “The current pandemic means that the NHS – and the entire country – has been through the most testing time in the service’s history.

“Our remarkably selfless nurses, doctors, paramedics and countless other staff have made costly sacrifices to provide treatment for more than a hundred thousand patients with coronavirus and thousands more who needed other care.

“And, in tribute to them, we have come together as a nation to thank them for their skill, professionalism and dedication.”

Meanwhile, Sir Keir said the health service had a personal resonance for him as his late mother was a nurse and later relied on the NHS as she became ill.

He said: “Many, many times she got gravely ill and it was the NHS that she turned to, and I remember as a boy, a teenager, being in high dependency units, in intensive care units, with my mum, watching nurses and other support staff keep my mum alive.

“They did that on more than one occasion – it’s etched in my memory. For them, it was just the day job. They were doing that every day.

“So, it’s very personal for me and I’m very grateful to the NHS and my mum was very grateful, she loved the NHS through the many decades that she absolutely depended on them.”

The nationwide clap has been organised following a letter from the Together coalition, in which influential figures including NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby voiced their support for making July 5 an official day of commemoration.