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Health Matters - 70 years of the NHS

Health Matters - 70 years of the NHS
11 July 2018

Dr Paul Bowen, clinical chair of NHS Eastern Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group, and GP with McIlvride Medical Practice, Poynton

Last week I was lucky and honoured to attend a special service at Westminster Abbey to celebrate the 70th birthday of the NHS along with 2,000 other NHS staff and patients. 

Sat among the other doctors, nurses, paramedics, volunteers, therapists and senior leaders I could feel the immense sense of pride. Between the hymns and prayers there were moving stories and accounts of the ways in which the NHS has touched people’s lives at their most vulnerable times. Watching not just the speakers during their readings, but the faces of those watching them, it was remarkable and heart warming to see how much every single person in that abbey valued an institution that represents everything good about being British. 

There was also a recognition of how the NHS has had to, and continues to, change. If the NHS is to get to its 80th or 90th birthday, the message was clear. But the inspiration to change was palpable too. The role of the voluntary sector was applauded at the same time and same level as specialist hospital services. And the advances in technology and genetics were highlighted, which will give people real power to take control of their health and understand their risks. 

If we are to preserve the founding principles of the NHS, however, and to maintain a service which is free at the point of use, irrespective of means, then the growing demand and stretched resources and workload will require ongoing radical thinking. The recently announced “birthday present” of additional annual funding represents a much-needed four per cent increase. However, the local NHS was last year close to 12 per cent in the red so some caution is required if folk feel the much-needed bail out will allow the status quo to continue. 

The NHS is held up by the goodwill and hard work of staff, volunteers and carers, and the understanding and “patience of patients”. It is a world-class service. But it falls behind many of the health systems around the world in terms of important outcomes such as cancer survival. This birthday was a chance to reflect on its success, and a chance for all to recommit to its success in a changing world.