The Countess of Wessex joined forces with TV duo Ant and Dec to formally open the new NHS Nightingale Hospital North East, in Sunderland via video message. Speaking from her Surrey home, Bagshot Park, Sophie spoke of her love of the city, saying: "Sunderland has been close to my heart for some time, which is why I am so pleased to have been invited to be talking to you, albeit virtually, today.
WATCH: Sophie opens NHS Nightingale Hospital North East by video link
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"Since 2003 when I became Patron of Sunderland Football Club's Foundation of Light Charity, I have enjoyed many visits to one of our country's friendliest cities. And only just over a year ago I had the honour of opening the Beacon of Light complex which is helping so many people."
Prince Edward's wife continued by calling the hospital "a beacon of care, a beacon of reassurance, of strength, of compassion and a beacon of innovation. It is a representation of the combined capability of many individuals and organisations, as well as a wonderful reflection of Sunderland's industrious spirit".
NHS personnel, construction contractors, civic partners and the Army pulled together to build the region’s Nightingale Hospital in Sunderland. The Nightingale Hospital North East has capacity to provide 460 more beds for patients with coronavirus, if they are needed in the weeks and months ahead. The hospital is for patients from across the North East and North Cumbria, with staff including nurses, physiotherapists and doctors coming from NHS trusts across the region.
Sophie paid tribute to those who have helped to build the new medical facility, saying: "Your determination, teamwork and skill has resulted in a hospital that will help to provide care to anyone in need. You have demonstrated that we are meeting the challenge of COVID-19 head on. On behalf of the nation and the North East community who you stand ready to serve, thank you for making all of this possible."
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Sophie opened the new hospital by video link
The Countess was joined by a host of famous faces as they recorded special video messages from their respective homes, including Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, former footballer Alan Shearer and cricketer Ben Stokes.
Dec said: "The amazing hospitals and the staff in the NHS in the North East have been pulling out all the stops to cope in these most difficult times and we hope and pray that, thanks to everybody staying at home and keeping safe distances and washing their hands, that we will keep the dreadful effect of this virus to a minimum."
His TV partner Ant added: "Even if it isn't needed, it's been a magnificent feat to pull this together and the speed of the transformation will be an enduring symbol of what the great people of this area are capable of."
The Countess of Wessex has been volunteering with a number of organisations and charities during lockdown, including helping to make food for NHS workers in a London kitchen.
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