To mark the NHS celebrating its 70th birthday, Michelle Brown, Deputy Head of Department for Healthcare Practice at the University of Derby, reflects on the changes, challenges and achievements of the health service.
What are we still delivering in the NHS? We continue to care for those who need our help, care and support and this is delivered using a compassionate approach and a desire to make a positive difference, to not only the patient/service user, but also, to their loved ones. On the day the NHS was born (July 5, 1948), a promise was made that the health service would care for everyone, no matter what age, background, socioeconomic status and this also remains unchanged. Although there are challenges reaching everyone who needs that care and support, those involved in health and social care provision strive to meet this promise.
What has changed?
This is a little more difficult to cover in a short blog! The range of areas where health and social care is provided has become more varied and widespread. If one focuses on care and treatment, big milestones have been achieved like the fact that more cancers are now cured, the average life expectancy has increased, the incidence of childhood deaths has decreased, and genomics and individualised/ personalised medicine continues to develop.
Revolutionary treatments have been introduced that have had a massive impact on not only life expectancy but also quality of life. Maximising quality of life for those with life limiting illness has also seen significant improvement through research and guidance allowing individuals to make decisions and choices as end of life approaches including choosing their preferred place of care. These are all significant achievements through improved public health, research and a greater understanding and knowledge surrounding risk and prevention being given as much attention as the treatment itself. As a nurse, other changes include the demand for higher skill attainment during pre-registration education, the fact that nursing became an all degree programme in 2012, and students have to pay for their own education. These changes are not only applicable to nursing, but are true of many of the staff and professionals who help to deliver the service we may sometimes take for granted. Listening to people’s accounts in the media of how staff have made a positive impact on their lives makes one proud to be a health professional and is a valuable reminder regarding why we joined a health profession.
Challenges over the last 70 years
There have been challenges in the 70 years with atrocities reported for example, the Mid Staffordshire scandal and, more recently, the Gosport War Memorial Hospital investigation. This is also in a year where statistics indicate that more nurses are leaving the profession than joining it and there are currently 35,000 nursing vacancies in England. This is not just a nursing problem, there is a national shortage of trained professionals across the sector, for example there are 10,000 vacancies in the medical profession. Shock and disbelief that patients can be unsafe in our NHS continues to happen, but learning from these events maintains our optimism and ensures we strive to address the weaknesses in the service. Striving to incite enthusiasm and give potential staff of the future the belief that they can have a fantastic career in the NHS. This is vital to help our service grow and continue to be something we are proud of but also provide people with fulfilling careers and future prospects.
Although we have experienced challenges and will continue to do so in the future, 70 years provides us with the opportunity to celebrate and reflect, but also to help people realise the significant impact health and social care professionals are making in healthcare. Staff who work in the NHS may do so in a variety of environments and settings with responsibilities, which may include not only providing fundamental care and maintaining a safe environment, they may, for example, be recognised as experts in their field by other professionals, teach, be leaders or researchers. Whatever their responsibility, staff have a major impact and a huge contribution to the wellbeing of the patient and their loved ones.
This is a time to reflect on achievements and to remember those events that shocked us, but which we learnt and changed to try to ensure those events did not happen again. Let us celebrate what we have achieved and what we can and will go on to achieve in the future as staff who work in and with the NHS.