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Health workers ‘honoured’ to play a role in Queen’s funeral

Nurse May Parsons delivered the first ever Covid-19 jab outside of a clinical trial (Jacob King/PA)
Nurse May Parsons delivered the first ever Covid-19 jab outside of a clinical trial (Jacob King/PA)

Health workers and volunteers have described how they are “honoured” to play a role in the Queen’s funeral.

Some will march in the funeral procession with the Queen’s coffin as part of the Civilian Services Contingent.

Among them will be May Parsons, the nurse who delivered the first ever Covid-19 jab outside of a clinical trial.

Ms Parsons, who is a modern matron for respiratory services at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Trust, delivered the vaccine to Maggie Keenan on December 8 2020.

She met the Queen in July as the monarch awarded the NHS the George Cross – one of the last ceremonial medal presentations the Queen took part in.

Audience at Windsor Castle
The Queen presenting the George Cross to Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, and May Parsons, modern matron at University Hospital Coventry and Warkwickshire, representatives of the NHS, during an audience at Windsor Castle, in July (Aaron Chown/PA)

Ms Parsons, along with frontline workers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard, accepted the award on behalf of the institution at a small ceremony at Windsor Castle.

Just two months before she died, the Queen was “full of life and humorous”, Ms Parsons said.

She told the PA news agency: “She was so lovely, she was so funny. She asked me what I was doing and I told her I was managing the Covid wards in my trust and I was delivering Covid vaccinations.

“Then (NHS chief executive) Amanda Pritchard said: ‘She doesn’t just deliver jabs, she gave the world’s first ever jab’.

“Then she quipped with: ‘Are you still alive?’ – obviously imagine how run ragged we were during the pandemic.

“She was so full of life and humorous – her sense of humour was top notch.

“I was so nervous but she made me feel at home and at ease – she was telling us not to look so glum in the photos.

“In between the shots she said: ‘Don’t look so miserable!’

“It was such a special time.”

She added: “To have those moments with her made her passing more painful.

“There are more than a million people in the NHS to represent so it’s an honour and a privilege to represent the wonderful people of the NHS at the funeral.”

Since the first Covid jab was delivered, the NHS in England has administered more than 127 million doses.

In the first week of the autumn booster campaign, the service delivered almost three quarters of a million jabs.

May Parsons delivered the first ever Covid-19 jab to grandmother Margaret Keenan in December 2020 (PA)
May Parsons delivered the first ever Covid-19 jab to grandmother Margaret Keenan in December 2020 (Jacob King/PA)

More than 44.5 million people in England have had at least one dose – including more than 94% of adults.

Meanwhile four St John volunteers – three from St John Ambulance England and another from St John Ambulance Cymru – will march in the funeral procession as part of the Civilian Services Contingent.

And further representatives from both St John Ambulance and the wider international Order of St John will be in the congregation for the service at Westminster Abbey.

The St John Ambulance volunteers in the procession said they were “honoured” to take part.

They include: Diana Martin, St John Ambulance’s unit manager for Leicester Central Event Services in Leicestershire; Emily Whyte, 25, a St John Ambulance district youth lead; Lee Devall, 44, St John Ambulance’s district clinical lead for Essex; and Jane Van-Tiel, 47, from Pontypridd, St John Ambulance Cymru’s county support manager and county youth manager.

Volunteers Lee Devall and Diana Martin, St John Ambulance’s chief commissioner Ann Cable with volunteers Jane Van-Tiel and Emily Whyte (St Joh
Volunteers Lee Devall and Diana Martin, St John Ambulance’s chief commissioner Ann Cable with volunteers Jane Van-Tiel and Emily Whyte (St John Ambulance)

Ms Martin said: “It’s a privilege to be selected to attend HM The Queen’s funeral and I’m honoured to be a part of this momentous occasion.”

Ms Whyte, from Watford, added: “I’m very proud and privileged that I’m able to represent not only Essex but the whole of the youth sector within St John Ambulance.”

Meanwhile, Ms Van-Tiel said: “St John has given me the opportunity to attend as a guest of a garden party at Buckingham Palace, and to meet various and many members of the royal family at numerous events.

“Being part of the fantastic organisation has given me so many opportunities and it’s an honour to be part it.

“I feel quite honoured to be chosen as the only representative from Wales. It’s a privilege to represent the whole of Wales for this and especially my own county.”

And Mr Devall said: “It’s a complete honour to be chosen to represent the organisation for the funeral of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.”

Hundreds of volunteers from St John Ambulance will be providing medical support across London and Windsor.

The charity also played a key role to support the Covid-19 vaccine programme.

The Queen was Sovereign Head of the Order of St John – an order of chivalry – and patron to St John Ambulance. Those roles now pass to King Charles III.