NHS hospital staff fighting to save the UK from coronavirus despite losing their own colleague to the virus are doing "amazingly under extreme circumstances", the Duke of Cambridge has told them, as he said: "The whole country is proud of you."
The Duke, who along with the Duchess made phone calls to frontline staff at two hospitals, said: "I know all of you see this as your job and that you get on with it, but this is a different level and you are doing an incredible job."
Passing on the thanks of the Royal Family for their hard work, the Duchess added it was essential for those working to battle Covid-19 to also get support themselves, telling them: "It must be so hard."
The Duke and Duchess, who are at home in Norfolk with their three children, took part in conference calls with staff on the request on the NHS, which picked two hospitals executives felt would benefit from a morale boost and the opportunity to speak about their most challenging times.
At one, Queen's Hospital Burton in Staffordshire, a senior consultant died this week after contracting coronavirus.
Dr Amged El-Hawrani, 55, became the first frontline doctor in Britain to lose his life during the pandemic, with his family saying he "dedicated his life" to them and his profession.
Speaking to seven members of staff via conference call, the Duke and Duchess heard an emotional team discuss the impact of losing their colleague, and their fears of contracting the virus while in service.
As part of a 25-minute call, the Duke said: "We'd just like to say from the two of us how proud we are of all of you and how amazingly you are all doing under extreme circumstances.
"I know all of you see this as your job and that you get on with it, but this is a different level and you are doing an incredible job.
"The whole country is proud of you so thank you for everything you're doing and all the hours you are putting in."
The couple also spoke with a group at University Hospital Monklands, North Lanarkshire, where staff are finding their usual specialist work now includes end-of-life care during a "tough time".
The Duchess told them: "You're stretched in all sorts of ways looking after the patients in your care under such extreme circumstances. But you also need to be able to make sure you support yourselves, and each other.
"It must be so hard but I'm glad to hear that you're currently getting all the support you need."
The couple were both on speakerphone in two of what will be a series of calls to their patronages and key people in the nation's fight against coronavirus.
It is understood that they are scheduling contact as and when organisations feel it would be more useful and appropriate, conscious of the best way for staff to be spending their time in highly pressured circumstances.
A spokesman for Kensington Palace said the Cambridges had been able to "thank them for their tireless work responding to the Covid-19 outbreak", with staff telling them "about the invaluable support they have received from their local communities as well as how they are supporting each other as they work through this crisis".
Adrian Thompson, an ENT consultant at Queen's Hospital Burton who had worked with El-Hawrani for 14 years, said: "We are all aware of the seriousness of Covid but when it takes the life of one of our own it hits us a bit harder.
"Their Royal Highnesses were very empathetic in offering their condolences and they were really sorry to hear we had lost a colleague."
The hospital told select staff about the call in confidence the day before it happened, arranging rotas so they could safely step away from duties without affecting patient care.
Brogan Bishop, an A&E nurse who only qualified two months ago, said "I can't wait to go back and tell my colleagues how wonderful they think we are."
Emily Johnson, a hospital spokeswoman who listened in on the conversation, added: "It genuinely felt like they shared in our grief."
Last month, before the Government advised an end to all except key worker travel, the royal couple paid a visit to the London Ambulance Service 111 call centre in Croydon.