A platform piece by Health Minister Robin Swann
This Sunday is the 72nd birthday of the National Health Service.
Applause will ring out to mark the date – just as it did to support health and social care workers in recent months.
It is very important that we pay tribute this weekend to the NHS and our localised version of it – the Health and Social Care (HSC) system.
So much has changed since 1948. Yet the health service is still very much with us; its founding principles still hold a very special place in our hearts.
In my view, its creation represents one of the finest achievements of post-war society.
The birthday will be a time for reflection.
We will think of the terrible impact of the Covid-19 pandemic – of the lives tragically cut short and all the families and friends left grieving.
We will think too of the commitment and courage shown by frontline workers; of the intensive and successful efforts to flatten the curve; of all the sacrifices made across society to maintain the lockdown and protect the health service.
And we will look to the future and the long-term rebuilding work for services that is now underway.
This is a monumental challenge. I have made clear that normal business will not be possible for the foreseeable future.
The continuing threat from Covid-19 means social distancing restrictions are essential. As a result, the capacity of the health system to provide appointments, diagnostic tests, operations and a wide range of other services will be seriously constrained.
I am very aware just how much staff have given of themselves in recent months. Exhaustion, both mental and physical, is a serious issue. We have to ensure they get all the support they need – and the time to recover.
For their sake, we all need to do everything we can to keep Covid-19 in retreat. The health service needs you – to keep washing your hands and practising social distancing.
In terms of rebuilding, we must be ambitious about the future. Going back to where we were last December is not an option for me. We must aspire to more than that.
We also need to be honest with ourselves about the scale of the task before us. There are no easy or quick solutions.
Some difficult decisions will have to be taken; changes in the way some services are delivered are inevitable.
If properly planned and managed, change can bring about improvements in care.
Rebuilding services will also require sustained investment.
I will push as hard as I can around the Executive table for significant budgetary uplifts for health and social care.
I appreciate that there will be many rival and pressing demands on public funding in the months and years ahead.
A degree of realism is needed over what is achievable in the short term at least.
Ministers won’t have the money to do all the things we are being urged to do.
That must not stop us striving for positive change - to do the very best we can.
As we look to a difficult future, we can take inspiration from the founders of the health service.
They built something that has stood the test of time. And they did so against the backdrop of a devastating world war.
That is an example to follow and an achievement worth celebrating.
Happy birthday NHS.
Minister of Health
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