A minute’s silence has been held in remembrance of those who have died during the coronavirus pandemic.
People were asked to observe the silence and light a candle on Saturday night as public buildings – including Downing Street – were lit up in blue.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was among those due to take part in the event, with a candle planned to be lit at his official residence at 9pm.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev Justin Welby, also lit a candle of remembrance in Canterbury Cathedral ahead of the NHS’s 72nd anniversary on Sunday.
A nationwide round of applause is set to take place on Sunday evening to mark the milestone.
Mr Johnson will meet NHS workers in the Number 10 garden on Sunday afternoon, and, speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Friday, urged the public to clap for “those who have worked tirelessly and selflessly to help the nation get through this pandemic”.
Other public buildings including the Royal Albert Hall, Blackpool Tower, the Shard and the Wembley Arch will also be lit up in blue in tribute to the NHS.
The nationwide clap follows the success of the weekly Clap For Carers during the coronavirus outbreak and it is hoped that the applause, which is planned for 5pm on Sunday, will become an annual tradition.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said he hopes the public will use the anniversary as an opportunity to “say a heartfelt thank you” to hospital staff.
Sir Simon said: “This year has been the most challenging in NHS history, with staff displaying extraordinary dedication, skill and compassion to care for the 100,000 patients with Covid-19 who needed specialist hospital treatment, and many others besides.
“During this testing time our nurses, doctors, physios, pharmacists and countless more colleagues were sustained by the support of the public, not least through the weekly applause for key workers.
“No health service, not even the NHS, could have coped alone with this coronavirus pandemic.”
Chief executive for NHS Wales Dr Andrew Goodall said Clap For Carers was “very much embraced” in Wales, and he is “delighted” to support it.
The nationwide clap has been organised following a letter from the Together coalition, in which influential figures including Sir Simon and Mr Welby voiced their support for making July 5 an official day of commemoration.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said NHS staff need a pay boost in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
He made the call during a virtual rally marking the 72 years of the NHS in which he praised health service staff for their efforts during the pandemic.
Sir Keir added: “The pride and the thanks that we have for the NHS which is always there, is reinforced this year by everything that all the staff in the NHS have done in relation to the Covid crisis.
“Of course, we’re not through that, and it will be our NHS heroes and the bravery of what they do which will get us through whatever comes next.
“That’s why it’s very important that we don’t just say thanks, but recognise in a meaningful way what the NHS has done.
“And that’s why Labour supports those calling on the Government today to make an immediate commitment to talks on a pay rise for NHS workers.”
The comments come after unions representing more than 1.3 million nurses, cleaners, physiotherapists, healthcare assistants, dieticians, radiographers, porters, midwives, paramedics and other NHS employees have written to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Prime Minister calling for pay talks to start soon.