Some two thousand guests were invited to attend the Queen’s funeral today at Westminster Abbey in the United Kingdom, including members of the royal family, heads of state, and foreign diplomats.
Several healthcare workers from the National Health Service participated in the ceremony as well. They were honored by Her Majesty earlier this year for their efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The workers received the George Cross, the highest award bestowed by the British government for non-operational gallantry or gallantry not in the presence of an enemy. It is believed to be one of the Queen’s last public events before stepping back from her royal duties.
Among those invited to the ceremony was Mary Parsons, a nurse with the NHS who administered the first COVID-19 vaccine back in 2020.
“All of the staff in hospitals and our communities went above and beyond during the pandemic to look after patients despite the risks the virus posed to themselves, across health and care, staff sacrificed so much to look after those in need,” Parsons said during the George Cross ceremony. It was the third time the award went to a collective group since it was established in 1940.
Parsons administered the first dose of the vaccine to a 90-year-old patient on December 8, 2020, at Coventry Hospital.
She reflected on what it was like to meet the Queen. She said she was “full of life and humorous.”
“She asked me what I was doing, and I told her I was managing the COVID wards in my trust and I was delivering COVID vaccinations,” Parsons said.
But their roles were reversed on Monday. Parsons and several healthcare workers arrived to pay tribute to the country’s longest reigning monarch.
Parsons marched in the Queen’s funeral procession as part of the Civilian Services Contingent along with three other healthcare workers, including two from England and one from Wales.
Emily Whyte, 25, a St John Ambulance district youth lead from Watford who attended the funeral, said, “I’m very proud and privileged that I’m able to represent not only Essex but the whole of the youth sector within St John Ambulance.”
“Her Majesty the Queen gave steadfast support to the NHS throughout her reign and in return, she had the admiration and respect of staff right across the health service for her leadership, wisdom and devotion to duty,” said NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard ahead of the funeral. “Receiving the George Cross from Her Majesty earlier this year was the proudest moment in the NHS’s long history.”
Healthcare workers all over the U.K. are also being urged to help patients honor the occasion. Live coverage of the funeral will play in hospitals across the country. The NHS says extra TVs will be put on in wards, atriums, and other public space in hospitals. All radios in the hospital will also play coverage of today’s events.
Nurses are also going from room to room with iPads to give patients a chance to sign the condolence card.
“As the country rightly pauses to mark Queen Elizabeth II passing, hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers including nurses, clinicians, porters and other staff working in hospitals and our communities in England will ensure patients can also pay their respects, many of whom were deeply honored when Her Majesty awarded the health service the George Cross earlier this year,” said Dame Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England.
“From staff going the extra mile to help patients sign the online book of condolence, through to hospital chaplains conducting remembrance services, NHS staff will do everything they can to ensure every patient has the chance to pay their respects,” May added.