NHS founding values are worth defending

Date published: 30 June 2023

There may be suggestions that the 75th birthday of the NHS could be overshadowed by the serious problems it is currently facing.

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That would be a shame, as there is still so much to cherish and celebrate about our health service. 

There is, of course, also much to concern us in the current situation.

The COVID-19 pandemic legacy, waiting lists, Emergency Departments under severe strain all year round, staffing shortfalls, budgetary pressures, industrial action – it is a formidable litany of problems. 

However, we should take some time to consider the founding values of the NHS and commit ourselves to them afresh. 

Care for those who need it, when they need it, with their ability to pay having no bearing whatsoever. 

It is a principle worth defending. 

Sadly, it has been eroded to a degree in recent years. Hospital waiting lists have undoubtedly deepened health inequalities, with the better off able to access more timely care. 

It is not too late to arrest that trend. 

We should not let the NHS as we know it slip slowly away. 

It is my professional view that this would be a profound mistake, with serious consequences for the health of the population. 

I also believe that it would fly in the face of public opinion. 

We saw how during the pandemic just how much people value our health service and its great staff. The scenes across NI each Thursday as people applauded in their doorways will stay with me for the rest of my life. 

The handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is now rightly under intense scrutiny in the public inquiry. 

It will be a difficult experience for everyone involved, especially those who suffered bereavement. 

It is essential that lessons are learned, however challenging some of them may be. 

At the same time, we must not lose sight of what our health service did for us during that period. 

Staff at all levels constantly displayed superhuman resilience, flexibility, commitment and compassion. 

Despite the unprecedented pressures that beset it, the service did not collapse. 

Now, with the COVID-19 threat continuing to recede, the health and social care system is deeply traumatised by what it has been through; its capacity impaired. 

The current budgetary position adds further to the pressures. 

Our health service and all those who work for it have a right to expect better than this. 

We owe it so much – for the care provided over the decades and the service it provided during recent, traumatic years. 

As we mark the NHS birthday, let us celebrate what it stands for and commit ourselves to rebuilding this great institution.

That is an achievable goal.

May it not just survive, but flourish.

Here’s to the next 75 years. 


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