Ian Payne 4am - 7am
Duke and Duchess of Cambridge praise NHS staff tackling coronavirus
20 March 2020, 20:40
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have praised frontline NHS staff after witnessing first hand how busy they are tackling coronavirus.
William praised staff at an NHS 111 call centre in Croydon, south London, for their hard work, saying he and Kate were “proud to visit to pass on our personal thanks.”
He also urged the public to heed expert advice on social isolation as he described the health service and its workers as the "very best of our country and society".
It was the first engagement the royal family has publicly undertaken out and about in connection with the pandemic.
William said: "The last few weeks, and more recent days, have been understandably concerning with the continuing spread of coronavirus.
"But it's at times like this when we realise just how much the NHS represents the very best of our country and society - people from all backgrounds and walks of life with different experiences and skills, pulling together for the common good.
"Not only are NHS staff and emergency workers responding to the needs of the public, they - like the rest of us - are concerned about their families, friends and loved ones. They need our support as much as we need theirs.
"That is why Catherine and I were proud to visit staff working at NHS 111, to pass on our personal thanks, along with those of my grandmother and father, to staff working around the clock to provide care and advice to those that need it most. It was also brilliant to see the great online tools for those with mild symptoms or worries.
"All of us have a part to play if we're going to protect the most vulnerable. That means acting on the latest expert advice, staying home if we or those we live with have symptoms, and avoiding non-essential contact to help reduce the spread of the virus."
During the visit Kate told the first call handler she spoke to: "It's amazing. You're doing such a great job bringing everyone together and providing that, the support system, for the whole public."
William added: "There's a lot of people out there who want to help. A lot of work is closing down elsewhere so people are going to want to come and volunteer, people want to help, people want to be there to support you guys, and everyone knows what a fantastic job you guys are doing."
The couple heard that the number of calls from the public had quadrupled since the crisis began and that the 999 service had just had the busiest three days in its history.
The visit saw the couple adhering to the latest protocols about dealing with the disease, with no handshakes, frequent hand-sanitising and a conscious effort to socially distance themselves from people.
During a conversation with a group of staff, which saw William and Kate sitting more than two metres from everyone else to show the importance of social distancing, Euan Flood, 34, a paramedic, told them how the 111 service was "incredibly busy".
He said: "We are getting calls one after the other. Currently we have a few hundred calls waiting to be called back, anything from a day to two, three days old.
"We are finding that people are quite understanding when we call them back. They are quite accepting that they know it's busy, they know it's going to be a long time. We try and get through them as quickly as we can, but safely as well."
The duke and duchess toured the large room where the call handlers work before William broke off to talk to two members of staff.
Future king William, 37, is the most senior royal in the line of succession who is young enough not to be affected by warnings that over 70s are more at risk of serious complications from the Covid-19 illness.
The Queen, who is 93, is at Windsor Castle with the Duke of Edinburgh, where they are socially distancing with a reduced household for their safety, while heir to the throne the Prince of Wales, who is 71, is at his country retreat Highrove in Gloucestershire.
William, whose two eldest children Prince George and Princess Charlotte are affected by school closures, launched a video appeal on Wednesday for the National Emergencies Trust to raise money on behalf of local charities working with those most at risk during the crisis, .
Before he left the call centre, he told the staff: "Well done on you guys. It's lovely to see you."