The NHS’s 70th birthday celebrations at Westminster Abbey
Photo above: A selfie in the Abbey with Tara.
Take a moment to consider how often in your lifetime the NHS has been there for you and your family when you have needed it the most. Free at the point of access, it is founded on a fundamental belief that no one should be denied health care regardless of their ability to pay. Whether it’s the birth of a child, a medical emergency or the passing of a loved one it is the care, dedication and support we receive in these profound moments is the reason we all hold the National Health Service so dear and why so many of us took pride in celebrating this momentous occasion.
On its 70th Anniversary last week I was privileged to attend a service of celebration for the NHS at Westminster Abbey. Such a beautiful setting usually associated with royal occasions it was wonderful to see the abbey packed to the rafters with NHS staff and patients, all with a story to tell and bursting with pride for this great British institution.
The service was conducted by Dean of Westminster and was attended by the Countess of Wessex. Sitting near to high alter I felt honoured to be so close to all the action and tried so hard to soak up the atmosphere. The choir sang beautifully and the congregation did their best when it was their turn! The readings and lessons from a wide variety of individuals captured the mood of the day exquisitely. Freya Lewis a teenage girl who was injured in the Manchester Arena attack in 2017 bravely delivered a moving, heartfelt speech in which she thanked the paediatric critical care team at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital for the love and care shown to her and her family since the attack. Having undergone such a life changing ordeal she reflected on the positives. How she has gained a lifelong friendship with the nursing staff and her dedication, not only to her recovery, but in raising thousands of pounds for the hospital to say thank you for the care she continues to receive, and the pleasure she now has from seeing that money put to good use.
Simon Stevens delivered the address, reflecting on the skill, compassion and bravery of health and social care workers who support the dignity of individual life. He gave earnest thanks to staff from all levels of the service and spoke of the NHS as a unifying ideal, to those of all faiths, and of none, across this nation, and down the generations, a health service that belongs to us all.
In doing so he acknowledged it would be foolish to be blind to the imperfections of the NHS, saying ‘we must be honest about its achievements and hold ourselves accountable to an ever higher standard’. He quoted Aneurin Bevan in saying “the NHS must always be changing, growing and evolving” so that “it must always appear to be inadequate”.
Therefore ‘in order to continue to succeed in the future, the NHS must always be impatient with the present’. A paradox perhaps that is at the heart of the establishment of the AHSNs and the reason why we at HIN are striving to ‘speed up the best in healthcare’.
He spoke of the many innovations and advances in healthcare over the years and the benefits to humanity that this country has given to the world, such as antibiotics, vaccines, IVF and CT Scanners. And the radical shifts in public attitudes to disability, sexuality and patient power over the years acknowledging there is still more to be achieved.
He finished by laying down a challenge to the brilliant and idealistic staff embarking on their NHS career today. ‘You’ve made a fantastic career choice’ he said. ’
Despite the pressures and sometimes, yes, the frustrations, there is no more worthwhile, or important contribution you can make to our nation for the years ahead. The NHS of the future is largely in your hands.’
It was a thoughtful and humble address, which looked to the future whilst being mindful of the lessons from the heritage of the NHS. It was uplifting also, celebrating the great people and skill within our health service, with a definite optimism of a bright future ahead.
Once the hymns had been sung and prayers delivered the bells of the abbey were rung, it was as if they were projecting all the gratitude and thanks that had filled the abbey during the service.
Announcing to the world the national pride in the NHS and the enthusiasm with which we look forward to its 100th birthday!
Follow all the action on the day at #NHS70 on Twitter