TWO NHS staff who work in the same office discovered they were long lost cousins when celebrating the 70th anniversary of the health service.

Doctor Anita Green, associate director of nurse education, and Joanna Norcross, an assistant contract manager, are third cousins and both work for Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust at its Worthing headquarters.

But neither realised until they shared their life stories discussing why they chose a career in the NHS as part of activities planned by the mental health trust to mark the milestone anniversary.

After reading each other’s tale, they realised they were both related to pioneering nurse Dame Alice Mary Williamson - Anita’s great aunt and Joanna’s grandmother’s cousin.

Dame Alice was born in 1903 and rose through the ranks as a nurse to become air commandant and matron-in-chief in the Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service.

After retiring from her role in 1959, she became chief nursing officer in Kuwait until 1962.

Third generation nurse Dr Green, 59, of Hayling Island, Hampshire, said: “It’s such an amazing co-incidence.

“Dame Alice, or Auntie Mary to the family, was an amazing woman, perfectly generous and gracious.

“I have been lucky enough to inherit her medals so have a wonderful reminder of what women can achieve.

“She is still an inspiration to me.”

Mrs Norcross, 55, of Worthing, said: “I’m so stunned by the smallness of the world.

“What was the likelihood of both of us washing up at the same place, given that neither of us has any obvious connection with Sussex.

“My aunt - Anita’s mother’s second cousin - was very excited to hear that I’d ‘found’ a relative as she is busy building a family tree and remembers Dame Alice quite vividly.

“Clearly time to start planning a family reunion and all thanks to the NHS.”

Meanwhile, the prime minister who created the NHS would be “horrified” that patients “abuse” the health service by missing appointments, his granddaughter has said.

Jo Roundell Greene, the granddaughter of Clement Attlee, said when the health service was created people were “so grateful” but now some people take the system “for granted.”

Money wasted on missed appointments could help the health service provide patients with cutting-edge treatments and new medicines, she said.

Ms Roundell Greene, who is one of Mr Attlee’s 11 grandchildren, said: “I think he would be delighted that it is still going but it doesn’t look anything like it did when it was first envisaged.

“I think he would be delighted we help the most vulnerable people who really need free medical help.”