Health service honoured at London Olympics

Hundreds of British nurses danced their hearts out at the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, in a glittering tribute to the British National Health Service.

More than 600 nurses followed hot on the heels of Daniel Craig’s James Bond, in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.

The National Health Service (NHS) nurses appeared alongside Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, in a joint tribute honouring popular British children’s fiction and the nation’s national health care system.

Founded in 1948, today the NHS provides the vast majority of free medical treatment and medicines to British residents. Despite being one of the worlds most highly regarded health systems, the NHS has been under attack from austerity measures by the conservative British government. More than 30,000 NHS workers lost their jobs in 2011 and the service has been opened up to sweeping privatisation.

East London NHS Foundation Trust nurse, Matthew House, was one of the volunteers who took part in the opening ceremony.

“What a show to be involved in and what a night,” Matthew, a primary care liaison nurse, told the Nursing Times.

Billions of viewers from around the world watched as the NHS nurses lit up the Olympic stage, spelling out the letters NHS and GOSH (for Great Ormond Street Hospital) in glowing blue lights.

“I was trembling with nervousness as we waited to enter the stadium,” Matthew recalled. “Then on entering the stadium, the roaring spectators got louder as we danced with the beds and children.”

The highly choreographed routine included a lively jazz swing dance by NHS nurses, patients and staff from the Great Ormond Street Hospital, who also shared the stage with a cast of giant villains created by British authors of children’s fiction.

Dancing around enormous puppets of fictional villains from Voldemort (J.K. Rowling), Cruella de Vil (Dodie Smith), Captain Hook (J.M. Barrie) and the Red Queen (Lewis Carroll), the performers also had to display their acting ability when hundreds of Mary Poppins floated in on umbrellas to help chase the villains away.

“Suddenly the difficulty of remembering the routine was gone as the crowd joined us with their pixel lights and roared back their delight,” Matthew said.

He was one of the 800 NHS nurses who volunteered to take part in the opening ceremony, which required a commitment of up to 150 hours for training and rehearsals. Almost all of the volunteer dancers in the ceremony also worked for the NHS.

The theme of the ceremony was celebrating the creativity and exuberance of British people, as well as the contributions that the UK has made to the world through innovation and revolution.

Images projected on the screen during the NHS tribute included an ultrasound scan of a baby in the womb. The technique of using ultrasound in antenatal care was developed by, among others, Professor Ian McDonald and Dr Stuart Campbell, who are both Scottish.