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5 July 2021

NHS heroes from Sussex join The Duke of Cambridge for a ‘Big Tea’ at Buckingham Palace

Six healthcare workers from NHS Trusts across Sussex were part of a group of NHS staff who got the chance to attend a special ‘Big Tea’ on the birthday of the NHS, hosted by The Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace on Monday (5 July), as a thank you for their incredible work tackling the Covid pandemic.

The event in the Palace gardens, on the same day the Queen awarded the George Cross to the NHS, was also attended by Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England. It took place alongside thousands of NHS Big Teas hosted across the country today either virtually or following the latest Covid-19 guidance in back gardens, schools, hospitals and community settings to show thanks for the incredible people who have been there for us all during the pandemic.

Dr David Walker, Medical Director at East Sussex Healthcare Trust who attended the event at Buckingham Palace said:

“To be invited to this special Royal Big Tea event at Buckingham Palace to meet The Duke of Cambridge today is a great honour. So many NHS staff across the country have been through so much over the last year and to be singled out to attend this event is very humbling. It has been a year like no other; traumatic, emotional, exhausting and hard work but what has shone through is the dedication and commitment of NHS staff to provide the best care possible in very challenging circumstances.

“The public support for the NHS Big Tea is an appreciation of that hard work and the monies raised for NHS Charities Together will continue to make a big difference to our staff and patients. We are hugely grateful for the support we have received from NHS Charities Together over the last year which has enabled us to implement Trauma Support for our staff, develop an app for our deaf patients and purchase all manner of items to help our staff during the pandemic.”

Amongst the other attendees were Michelle Butler, Specialist Behaviour Support Practitioner at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“It is an amazing opportunity to be invited to attend the NHS Big Tea event at Buckingham Palace alongside colleagues from Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. I have supported people with learning disabilities for 22 years and they are some of those most impacted by the pandemic, facing the complete disruption of their support networks and the challenge of understanding changing Covid restrictions. 

“Last year, supported by our NHS trust charity Heads On, we put together over 600 mental health isolation boxes, which were delivered across Sussex and Hampshire to adults and children using mental health services, women’s refuges, young offenders, older people with dementia and people with learning disabilities. The packs contained a wealth of distraction activities to support people facing the challenges of lockdown and to show them that someone was thinking of them, at a time when people were feeling incredibly isolated and often frightened. The feedback we received was absolutely amazing and shows what brilliant things can be achieved when we work together as charities and NHS teams.

“I am extremely privileged to work among an amazing team of people and it means such a lot to us all that the public are so supportive of the NHS Big Tea events across the country.”

Ellie Orton OBE, CEO of NHS Charities Together, which has raised over £150m to support NHS staff, volunteers and patients as they battle the Covid crisis, said:

“We are so grateful that The Duke was able to honour our NHS staff in this way. The Big Tea at Buckingham Palace, and all of those happening across the country, helps us to raise awareness of the amazing contribution of NHS staff over the last year.

If the NHS has been the backbone of the nation during the most challenging of times then NHS staff have been its beating heart. I’m in awe of NHS staff who have dealt with so much over the last year, we would have been lost without them. I think it is fantastic and entirely deserved that they are collectively going to be honoured with the George Cross.”

Representing East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust were:

  • Soumya Sononey, from Eastbourne, Staff Nurse at East Sussex Healthcare Trust. Soumya started her role on 29 July 2019 as a staff nurse on the stroke ward and will soon be moving to a clinical facilitator role.  She contributed to the ESHT Project, being one of the key storytellers and worked with sharing her story with the national organisation NHS Charities Together.
  • George Keegan, from St Leonards-on-Sea, Emergency Department Housekeeping Coordinator at Conquest Hospital in Hastings. George worked throughout the pandemic supporting the Emergency Department teams at Conquest Hospital. He also covered Housekeeping Supervisor shifts alongside his day job when staff numbers were low due to Covid.

Dr David Walker from Hastings, Medical Director. Although he is Medical Director he continued to work clinically as well as a cardiac consultant and was instrumental in supporting and delivering the Covid vaccinations to, not only ESHT staff, but all those working locally in health care, including working in vaccination hubs after his shifts ended.

Representing Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and its official NHS charity Heads On were:

  • Michelle Butler from Eastbourne, a Specialist Behaviour Support Practitioner, who organised over 600 mental health isolation boxes supported by Heads On for people struggling with their mental health during lockdown. This is in addition to her day job supporting people with learning disabilities and complex and challenging behaviour during the pandemic.
  • Ian Puttock from Angmering, who works in Sussex Partnership’s Project Management Office and when Covid-19 hit, raised over £1,000 for Heads On patient running groups by running a virtual New York Marathon, established a PPE co-ordination system and later set up our vaccination hubs – all in addition to his day job.
  • Amber Perrin from Portslade works as a Healthcare Assistant on Pavilion Ward, our Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Mill View Hospital in Brighton, caring for people when they are extremely unwell due to their mental health and raised over £1,000 to support staff on the ward by doing a sponsored walk with her two young children.

The Buckingham Palace reception was attended by NHS staff, from respiratory ward nurses and counsellors to hospital doctors and care workers. All of them have gone the extra mile over the last year to tackle the pandemic, from supporting the mental health of patients and NHS staff and overseeing the vaccination programme to treating very sick patients with Covid. Others have been behind the scenes ensuring that the health service can continue with its vital work.

The NHS Big Tea is a chance for communities to come together for a moment of reflection on the past year and to thank NHS staff and each other for the role we have all played in tackling the pandemic.

Many celebrities, led by the England men’s football team at Euro 2020 have shown their support for the day, including actor, comedian and writer Stephen Fry, actress Olivia Colman, Line of Duty actress Vicky McClure, TV presenter and journalist Lorraine Kelly, author Adam Kay, and doctor and TV presenters Dr Alex George, Dr Hilary and Dr Ranj, radio DJ and TV presenter Edith Bowman, This Country actress and writer Daisy May Cooper, comedian Rosie Jones, The Chase’s Paul Sinha and more.

Actor, comedian, and writer Stephen Fry said:

“One of the positives of the last year, is that expressing gratitude for our NHS has never been so widespread across the nation. But just our gratitude won’t be enough to support NHS staff, who are dealing with the aftermath of the untold trauma that they heroically confronted. It’s so important for the public to unite today, have a cup of tea together, and raise funds for them so that they can continue their hugely important work.”

NHS Charities Together has so far allocated £125 million for a range of projects supporting staff, patients, and volunteers, working with its 240 NHS member charities covering the UK. Projects funded in Sussex by Heads On and East Sussex Healthcare Trust Charity include therapeutic support for mental health inpatients during national lockdowns, staff care packages, digital art projects for people with mental health problems, research into how people from ethnic minority communities experience mental health services, trauma support for staff, developing an app for deaf patients and purchase all manner of items to help staff during the pandemic.

Rachael Duke, Head of Charity at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“I am absolutely delighted to have been given the chance to nominate Michelle, Ian and Amber to attend this prestigious event on behalf of Heads On and Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

“Each one of them has made a huge contribution to the charity over the last year, whilst still carrying out their crucial roles within the Trust, at a time when NHS staff have, more than ever, been in need of support and appreciation.”

You can support NHS staff and volunteers by donating, visit www.nhscharitiestogether.co.uk.