Duke and Duchess of Cambridge celebrate NHS birthday at tea party with Norfolk locals

The NHS’s 72nd birthday could only be appropriately marked with something terribly British: a tea party. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended one such even in King’s Lynn this afternoon, to celebrate the special occasion with Norfolk locals, as they continue to wait out the pandemic at Anmer Hall.

Prince William and Kate were at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for a special tea party to mark the anniversary of the National Health Service, begun in July 1948. The NHS provides healthcare at the point of access, with no heed paid to background or ability to pay; the system is funded through taxes.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge celebrate the NHS’s 72nd birthday with a tea party in Norfolk (Kensington Palace)

Both the Duke and Duchess dressed in blue – perhaps a nod to the NHS.

The event was their first public joint engagement since lockdown, and they sanitised their hands before heading to the party.

The Royals spent time talking to NHS staff and their family members at large round tables, with afternoon teas, sandwiches, crisps, and cakes, while the (windy) outdoor venue carried a marquee and balloons.

Yesterday was the first day of further lockdown easing in England, with pubs and restaurants able to open; the Duke enjoyed a cider at his Sandringham local, the Rose and Crown on Friday. Rules have also eased to make physical distancing just 1m.

William and Catherine were given three small knitted keyrings, made by hospital staff, depicting doctors and nurses with face masks. “The children will love them,” the future King said.

The couple weren’t the only Royals to mark the occasion: Prince Charles released a message of thanks to staff for their work today.

Suzie Vaughan, 43, and her daughters Hettie, 7, and Bella, 9, spoke with the royal couple at the tea party. Suzie came to national attention in June, when she posted a video of her finally seeing her daughters again, having been separated for nine weeks; Ms Vaughan works as an operating department practitioner.

William and Kate were gifted knitted health worker keyrings for their children (Kensington Palace)

Kate said: “It is a real treat to meet you both… Did you miss your mum?”

The Duke said to Suzie and chief nurse Libby McManus, “Everyone appreciated what you do. The NHS is a fantastic organisation.”

“You did a really good job,” Catherine told staff. “It’s amazing how everybody pulled together.”

William also complimented the Vaughan girls’ outfits: “I love your dresses.”

The Duchess added: “You girls look really pretty.”

Delighted with the royal conversation, Suzie said: “They both always wanted to meet a real life princess.”

Mental health was also on the agenda; William asked how staff had coped with anxiety during the pandemic, and was told there were “wobbly-moments”.

“This is a good way of describing it,” The Duke of Cambridge said. He spoke more on this topic at the hospital’s ambulance station in June, learning how staff were trained to notice signs of mental distress.

The Duke drove the couple home from the engagement.

Households across the UK once more took to their doorsteps and balconies tonight, for one final Clap for Carers session at 5pm, to mark the NHS birthday. It was a weekly event for a number of weeks, to show appreciation for the front line of the health service; the Cambridge family took part in the applause earlier, we are told.

2020 also marks 40 years of the Norfolk hospital, which has provided care to 450 Covid-19 patients during the pandemic.

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