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Director's tribute to 'amazing' NHS
Danny Boyle paid tribute to the NHS during the Olympics opening ceremony because universal healthcare is one of the core values of British society.
The health service was featured as one of Britain's proudest achievements during the £27 million spectacular.
Boyle said the NHS was an "amazing thing to celebrate" and dedicated a whole section of his show to the health service.
More than 600 real-life nurses and other healthcare workers joined Boyle's army of volunteers during the extravaganza.
The swinging sisters, dressed in 1950s uniforms, used luminous hospital beds to spell out the words "NHS" and "GOSH" - Great Ormond Street Hospital. Patients and staff from the world-renowned children's hospital received rapturous applause when they made an appearance in the arena.
Boyle said: "One of the reasons we put the NHS in the show is that everyone is aware of how important the NHS is to everybody in this country. We believe, as a nation, in universal healthcare. It doesn't matter how poor you are, how rich you are, you will get treated.
"One of the core values of our society is that it doesn't matter who you are, you will get treated the same in terms of healthcare. We all end up there. You can be in all these private hospitals - if anything serious happens to you, you are in the NHS. And that felt like something that we thought was a great thing to celebrate.
"We are almost unique in having universal healthcare. It is something that is very dear to people's hearts. All types of government fight like billy-o, to control it, to cut it, to deal with it. But there is something about it - it is so embedded in us that we have decided to keep it. It is an amazing thing to celebrate."
Boyle said that the volunteers who came from the NHS were "proud people", adding: "They work for something that they truly, truly believe in. We're delighted to add to that by saluting them. All of the volunteers have made a special sacrifice to be with us but these guys are extraordinary.
"They turn up after shifts - you know what they are dealing with every day, they are dealing with mortality and sick children - yet they turn up and they have made it absolutely amazing."
Royal College of Nursing executive director of nursing and service delivery Janet Davies said: "As well as celebrating the best of sport, the Games are a celebration of the best of Britain and this firmly includes NHS workers.
"We are delighted that nurses played a prominent role in the Olympics by appearing in the opening ceremony itself to looking after the health needs of the millions visiting the Games."
The sequence, dubbed Second On The Right And Straight On 'Til Morning, also features a section promoting children's literature.
Boyle said: "JM Barrie's royalties from Peter Pan all go to Great Ormond Street. Gosh triggered us into the idea of children's literature.
"When you look at literature, although it has been 'Disneyfied', so many of the characters that people know are actually born in British literature - Captain Hook, Peter Pan, Cruella de Vil, the Queen of Hearts."
Harry Potter author JK Rowling begins proceedings by reading a passage from Peter Pan. A horde of best-loved baddies appear on stage but are chased away by a group of umbrella-wielding Mary Poppins characters.
Boyle added: "There is a serious implication of it - it is trying to make a connection between the importance of literature and the delight of reading and writing."
Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said: "From Harry Potter to Alice In Wonderland, British writers have created stories which get children across the world reading.
"We're excited that the Olympic opening ceremony is celebrating this achievement. We hope it will inspire a generation of British children to discover the power of stories and the joy of reading."
Gosh chief executive Jane Collins said: "We are so grateful to Danny Boyle and his incredible team for inviting the hospital to be involved in the opening ceremony for London 2012.
"It is a wonderful honour to be part of such a historic event for London and for the whole of the country. The children, their parents and staff who took part were sworn to secrecy and it's great that we're now able to share our excitement with everyone. Thanks again, Danny, and good luck Team GB."
Lottie Pink, from Kingston, south west London, was one of the patients from the hospital who took part in the show. The 10-year-old was treated for a brain tumour two years ago and returns to the hospital every few months for check-ups.
She said: "I am proud to represent all the great work the hospital does. Without them, I would not be here.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I am proud to have been picked. It is something I will remember all of my life."