Gratitude is a funny thing – sometimes we are only able to feel grateful for something when it has gone, or is at risk. Sometimes it can be hard to express because it means really acknowledging our dependence on somebody or something. But gratitude also comes out at times of celebration and the marking of life over time – birthdays, anniversaries, key moments and memories.

The NHS, on which we all depend, and to which many of us contribute, has an anniversary on Sunday July 5th, marking the 72 years since this extraordinary collaborative system of care for others was put into motion. There’s  no doubt that the global pandemic has raised the profile and the nature of our dependence on the NHS in  a profound and powerful way – and the individual as well as the organisational challenges that we have faced in Covid, and continue to face in sustaining life and development within  the NHS.

We also know that at times of enormous systemic strain, simple but authentic connections with others are key. So we thought it would be a good way to mark the anniversary by asking some system leaders in North Central London to share key moments from the past few months, as a way of saying thank you. You’ll  hear from nurse leader from the Whittington, leaders from Primary Care and from the NCL CCG, and  CEO’s from  Acute Services and  Mental Health – and from all of them you will hear about a specific interaction or memory from these turbulent months as a way of saying a thank you that recognises what the NHS means to us all as individuals as well as a community.

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Hello, my name is Michelle. I’m so incredibly proud to be a nurse in the NHS and to have led our organisation through the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am equally, if not more so, incredibly proud and in awe of our staff over this period. There are so many stand out moments that I would like to talk of, but one really does stand out to me.

It was at the height of the peak with our hospital and community health services caring for a high number of patients with COVID infections. I went to one of the acute assessment wards where we were caring for high dependency patients and I met two staff – one newly qualified nurse and one healthcare support worker. They were both wearing full PPE, which they did for the 12 hour shift, and working in a bay with some very sick patients.

We shared a moment of reflection on their experience, the incredible sadness of patients who had deteriorated and died. They were devastated. We also then shared a happier moment of how their ward team had all worked together so well and the camaraderie was fantastic and got them through the dark days. We also laughed which was so lovely, their spirit and resilience was wonderful. Thank you.

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Hello, my name is Jo Sauvage. The last few months have been really hard work for everyone. What has made me really proud to be in my role is the fact that across our system we’ve worked hard together. We’ve tried to connect with each other and we’ve shown care for each other. I cannot count the number of emails I’ve received that start “how are you? I hope you’re well” and end “stay well, stay safe”.

We’ve remind ourselves and each other of the importance of thinking about each other and caring for each other as people. This has made me proud to be who I am, where I am, at this moment – the fact that we have remembered to treat each other well.

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I’m Kay and I’m the Executive Director of Quality for NCL CCG. There were many moments I witnessed during the COVID pandemic that made me feel unbelievably proud to work for the NHS and to work with the most amazing group of people. But there were nine outstanding days that really stood out for me

This was when the Quality team came together to provide Infection Prevention and Control training for over 200 care homes in North Central London. It was at the peak of the pandemic and this group of heroes worked night and day, weekday, weekends including the bank holiday and did the impossible.

They negotiated the release of 17 nurses from different organisations, trained two super trainers and 15 train the trainers and just did the most amazing job of speaking to all of the 218 care homes often 3 or 4 times until they got through to the right person who realised how much they needed this support.

They didn’t give up. They really knew how much care homes needed this and they needed it now. And most importantly their key single unrelenting focus was to make sure everyone who needed it, got it – and I know this had an impact on patients’ lives.

I am so proud of what they did, how they did it and what they achieved. Thank you.

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Hello, my name is Siobhan, I’m Chief Executive of Whittington Health. One moment that actually sticks with me most among many times is when I was in the queue at a lunchtime with our 2m distancing and I was chatting to one of our speech and language therapists (SALT) from the community, who actually had been redeployed to the ITU unit. Firstly, I was struck physically talking to her, she had marks from her face mask where she had just come off ITU for a break. I recall her telling me about her skin and I then followed up finding some face cream which could be given to staff in ITU, which was donated to us, which was really, really great.

She talked to me about what was really happening for her, and her family, and in her life, and in her working life. She talked about how at the beginning she wasn’t sure as a SALT she could or would be able to be helpful in ITU and that actually she that her skills were really quickly transferable, especially some of the analytical skills that you use within SALT and how that helped her with the observations in ITU.

She also had a young family so she was obviously worried about taking the virus home. She told me how she had decided to sleep in a different room from her husband, from her kids, and how hard that had been for all of them as a family. She also really spoke about how excited she was to care for people in ITU and how professionally she really did relish her new role, even though she was pretty tired. I suppose what I would really like to say is, thank you.

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My name is Caroline Clarke, I’m the Group Chief Executive at the Royal Free London. it seems like ages ago that we started treating patients with the COVID virus, in fact it was back in February, and as we mark the NHS 72nd birthday it’s a chance to pause and reflect on how the last few months have been.

I remember very early on, early one morning, meeting a senior doctor in the car park who told me that she had just sent her kids away, to Scotland, where they would be safe and she wasn’t sure when she would see them again. And then later that day, talking about hotels and where our staff were going to be so that they could shield their families, and thinking through what a massive sacrifice that was.

Then of course seeing people cheer themselves up on social media with songs and Tik-Tok dances, and thinking what amazingly resilient people we have, as well as people who are willing to give and sacrifice. And then hearing from colleagues who would do all that, and then go home and look after vulnerable members of their community, and make sure that they were safe.

It just makes you realise what an amazing group of people you are who work in the NHS – kind, caring, and just the very best. So, I just want to say, thank you.

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Hello, my name is Paul Jenkins and I’m the Chief Executive of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. This Sunday 5th July marks the 72nd anniversary of the NHS, one of the country’s best loved and most important institutions. The last couple of months have provided a significant test of our resilience and ability to deliver, probably of the kind that few of us have seen in our working careers. It is a test that I think we have responded to brilliantly.

At the heart of that has been the efforts of all of our staff, working well beyond the call of duty, to meet the needs of patients. By staff, I very much mean all staff. One of the best things about the last couple of months is how the profile of different groups of staff has been increased – both the contributions of frontline staff but also those who provided support in IT, in catering, in cleaning, and in back-office functions.

We’ve also had a time where people have had to undergo a lot of personal challenges, working incredibly hard, but also those who have experienced bereavements or who have even seen the loss of colleagues. There is no doubt that COVID is not yet off the scene.

Our commitment as leaders in NCL has to be that we continue to put staff wellbeing right at the centre of our focus and ensure we provide the support to staff to get through the challenges of the months ahead. Thank you very much.

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So, as part of our celebration for the 72nd birthday of the NHS on Sunday, this is our #ThankYouTogether, from Together in Mind.

To celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the NHS on 5th July 2020, leaders from across North Central London have come together to share key moments from the past few months, as a way of saying thank you. Our speakers are:

  • Michelle Johnson, Chief Nurse and Director of Patient Experience at Whittington Health NHS Trust
  • Jo Sauvage, GP City Road Medical Centre and Chair at North Central London CCG
  • Kay Matthews, Executive Director of Quality at North Central London CCG
  • Siobhan Harrington, Chief Executive at Whittington Health NHS Trust
  • Caroline Clarke, Group Chief Executive at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
  • Paul Jenkins, Chief Executive at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

Please use #ThankYouTogether to share your experiences in celebration of the NHS.