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New Year Honours 2021: the incredible NHS staff and frontline workers recognised for their work during the pandemic

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Christobel Hastings
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NHS workers, community leaders and volunteers who went the extra mile to care and protect people during the Covid-19 crisis have dominated the New Year Honours list - and it’s thoroughly heartwarming to watch.

2020 was an exceptionally challenging year for a spectrum of different reasons, but throughout the adversity, we witnessed incredible acts of service from NHS staff, frontline workers, and ordinary members of the community who went above and beyond to care for people during the pandemic.

It seems only right, then, that hundreds of unsung heroes who fought tirelessly to save lives during the Covid-19 crisis have been recognised in the New Year Honours.

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For the NHS, the incredible means by which everyone living in the UK can receive medical and health care services for free, 2020 brought the greatest public health challenge in its entire history.

Wendy Clapham, assistant director of nursing services for critical care, outpatients and pre-operative assessment at the Royal Oldham Hospital, and Catherine Fitzsimmons, a former palliative care nurse who came out of retirement to return to the wards of Salford Royal, were both recognised for their services to nursing.

“I felt that I couldn’t sit at home during the pandemic whilst my colleagues were preparing for the unknown, hence I volunteered to return as a retiree,” Fitzsimmons said in a statement to the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group (NCA). 

“Working with the palliative care team enabled me to use my experience to support patients and families and carers in a very different environment to our norm and during the most distressing times for them.

“I felt very proud and honoured to be back nursing – it’s what I love doing. I am honoured to be awarded a British Empire Medal though I share this with each and every one of my extraordinary colleagues at the NCA for their tremendous efforts throughout this year.”  

Professor Alka Ahuja, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist from Cardiff, was also awarded an MBE for services to the NHS during the pandemic. She helped establish the pioneering use of video technology in the NHS Wales Video Consulting Service, which was scaled up during the pandemic to enable people to continue to access healthcare advice and services from home.

Judith Machiwenyika, nurse consultant at the Royal Papworth Hospital, meanwhile, received an MBE for services to nursing and to Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) equality, particularly during the Covid-19 response.

Wales’ first woman consultant cardiac surgeon was also recognised in the New Year Honours. 

Professor Farah Bhatti of Morriston Hospital in Swansea, who was the first British woman of Pakistani heritage appointed as a consultant cardiac surgeon in the UK, has been awarded an OBE for services to diversity in the NHS in Wales.

“It is absolutely wonderful to be recognised for the work I do in promoting equality, diversity and inclusion,” she said in a statement. “It’s a privilege to be a cardiac surgeon and to also work towards creating a fairer environment where everyone can thrive.”

Senior matron Carol Doggett, head of nursing – medicine and ECHO (emergency care and hospital operations) at the same hospital, was also awarded an MBE for services to leadership and nursing care for intensive care patients and staff, particularly during Covid-19.

Doggett, who has been nursing since 1987, supported and led the nursing teams in critical care through the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

And Neath Port Talbot Hospital’s clinical nurse specialist Karen Kembery received a BEM for services to nursing for her work to transform the approach to wound care and the prevention of pressure ulcers.

Captain Emma Henderson, an airline pilot from Moray, received an MBE for founding Project Wingman, an initiative using the skills of furloughed and recently unemployed airline crew to create a first class lounge experience in hospitals in the UK for frontline NHS staff. 

“I’m completely overwhelmed, frankly,” she told BBC News. “I burst into tears when I found out - it’s an amazing thing to be receiving and I feel so grateful for it. It’s down to the hard work of volunteers, so I hope this reflects on them as well.”

Charity workers and volunteers who stepped up to protect vulnerable people and provide support to NHS staff during the Covid-19 crisis are also at the forefront of this year’s New Years Honours list, with 65% of recipients given awards for outstanding work in their community. This year’s list is also the most diverse to date, according to official data from the Cabinet Office, with 49% being women, 14.2 % from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds, and 6.9% of people with a disability receiving awards.

Community leader Ravi Bhanot was awarded an MBE for decades of work with BAME communities in east London, as well as working with local charities to provide care parcels for the homeless and vulnerable, and meals to NHS frontline staff during the pandemic.

Carl Konadu, a co-founder of 2-3 Degrees, a not-for-profit organisation helping people in London prepare for jobs applications during the pandemic, was also awarded a BEM (British Empire Medal) for services to young people.

Jamie Kinlochan from Paisley, meanwhile, was awarded a BEM for his work as public affairs manager with Who Cares Scotland?, an advocacy and campaigning organisation for people with experience of the care system. During the pandemic, he launched a helpline to provide support and financial assistance for vulnerable people, with approximately £150,000 given to those in need through cash and supplies between March and July.

“It might have been my idea to do something differently at the start of the pandemic - it was a collective effort that turned that into a reality,” he wrote on Twitter. “In an ideal world, welfare services would give people what they need, when they need it.”

“I’m really proud of what we managed to make happen and of this literal honour. Of all my colleagues who made it happen and our funders who encouraged us,” he continued. “I hope our contribution pales into insignificance when compared with what change to people’s lives we create next.”

Charandeep Singh, community leader and co-founder of the Sikh Food Bank, was also awarded a BEM for services to charity during the pandemic. Launched in March as an emergency response to the Covid-19 crisis, the charity and its amazing army of volunteers delivered more than 100,000 meals to families in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

There were also two centenarians on the list this year: 106-year-old Anne Baker, who became the oldest ever recipient of an honour for raising thousands of pounds for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), and 104-year-old Ruth Saunders, who was awarded an MBE for services to charity during the pandemic after walking a marathon to raise money for Thames Valley Air Ambulance.

Kim Leadbeater, who helped set up a charity after her MP sister Jo Cox was murdered in 2016, was also awarded an MBE for services to social cohesion, the community in Batley & Spen, West Yorkshire, and combatting loneliness during Covid-19. 

“After such a difficult year for so many, the work of The Jo Cox Foundation has never been more important,” she said in a statement. “We face unprecedented levels of loneliness and social isolation, compounded by grief and bereavement along with serious concerns around mental health and well-being. 

“Communities across the UK will sadly face many more challenges in the coming months. I intend to use the recognition of this honour to turbo-charge my efforts and those of my team to make as much difference as we can in 2021.”

Images: Getty; Twitter

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