n The NHS boss who oversaw the health service’s preparations for Brexit, only to then be pushed to lead its Covid-19 response, has been knighted.
Professor Keith Willett, National Director of Contingency Planning and Incident Response at NHS England and NHS Improvement, joins host of scientists and health experts celebrated in honors list honorary of the queen’s birthday.
Recognized with the highest honor after 40 years in the healthcare service, Professor Willett was previously the Strategic Commander for the Delivery of NHS Preparations as the UK left the EU.
He told the PA news agency: ‘I had led the NHS’ preparation for Brexit. Literally until the week before, I was then asked if I would take responsibility for leading the response to what was then a first coronavirus that we didn’t know much about. “
But as a professor of orthopedic trauma surgery at the University of Oxford and a consultant surgeon, Professor Willett is used to working under pressure.
“I have been a trauma surgeon throughout my career so dealing with the unexpected and dealing with little information and responding to incidents is what I am professionally trained to do,” he said.
“I thought Brexit was the most important role I was ever asked to take on, outside of clinical practice.
“But I have to say, clearly, that the pandemic has gone beyond that in terms of what it asked of everyone.”
Professor Willett said he was’ honored ‘to be knighted, but added:’ I am also very aware of the many, many really good people in the NHS and the wider health community who, these time, all gave so much, and for some, that’s it. “
In January 2020, as Director of Strategic Incidents, he took on the responsibility of leading the NHS response to the coronavirus pandemic across England.
“I think it was at times extremely difficult for everyone. For those in leadership positions, it was all around uncertainty and demand, ”he said.
“For those on the front lines, I’m sure it was a lot more about just working to maintain professional care for patients who presented themselves. “
He added: ‘The NHS as a community works like a family and this is how it reacts, everyone has just gone above and beyond what you would normally expect to support their colleagues, as well as the public and their patients. “
Professor Willett, who had previously done a CBE in 2016, described his role as akin to ‘leading an orchestra with some of the most committed and capable players you could wish to bring together, as the NHS always does and the wider health community. “.
Admitting that he felt “maybe a little uncomfortable that I was singled out,” he was full of praise for the actions of his colleagues during the pandemic.
“It was remarkable to see how everyone in the NHS and more broadly stood up to take on what was a challenge that neither of us really understood how difficult it would be,” a- he declared.
Asked about his thoughts on the future of the NHS, he said: ‘The NHS is undoubtedly one of the most valuable national assets and I think the collective response we have seen during the pandemic has it. more than demonstrated, and I know the UK public and staff hope this will be recognized in the future in terms of support for the NHS. “
NHS England President Lord Prior praised all recognized health workers for their efforts during one of its most difficult crises.
He said: ‘These honors are well deserved and come at a time when our hardworking staff go above and beyond to maintain and open all NHS services, while continuing to respond to the pandemic and having treated over 400,000 people. seriously ill. with the Covid, in the hospital.
“From those who work on the front lines such as nurses, general practitioners and surgeons, to campaigners, researchers and digital architects, the honors recognize the diversity of skills and roles across the NHS, and the tireless work of these people. and the NHS as a whole. “