Posted on July 5, 2018
NHS staff and patients to mark 70th birthday of health service
Westminster Abbey and York Minster among venues hosting events to mark anniversary
Staff and patients are set to join celebrations across the UK on Thursday to mark the 70th birthday of the NHS.
Services will be held at Westminster Abbey and York Minster to commemorate 70 years to the day that Aneurin Bevan, then the health secretary, launched the NHS at Park hospital, Manchester (now Trafford General hospital).
Thousands of tea parties will take place to raise money for NHS charities and dozens of landmark buildings will be bathed in blue light, including Blackpool Tower, Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the London Eye.
As it enters its eighth decade, the NHS faces pressing questions about its sustainability, with record numbers of people waiting at A&E and for treatment.
But Thursday will be an opportunity to celebrate its achievements, which have seen it grow to be the world’s largest publicly funded health service, dealing with more than 1 million patients every 36 hours and sharing out over £100bn a year.
Simon Stevens, the NHS England chief executive, said: “The reason why the health service does so well is frankly due to the brilliance of the staff … And it’s frankly because of the staff that the nation has just recommitted to the idea of a health service [that is] there when you need us, based on how sick you are, not whether you can afford us – a principle that has stood the test of time.”
On Wednesday night Theresa May told a gathering of NHS staff at Downing Street that the UK was marking “a very special birthday of a very special institution. In a world that has changed almost beyond recognition [since 1948], the vision at the heart of the NHS – of a tax-funded service that is available to all, free at the point of use, with care based on clinical need and not the ability to pay – still retains near-universal acceptance.”
She credited the role of a politician from each of Britain’s three main political parties in the creation of the NHS: William Beveridge (the Liberal who in 1942 set out how the government could fight the five “giant evils” of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness); Nye Bevan (the health minister in Clement Attlee’s postwar Labour government regarded as the NHS’s founding father); and the little-known Sir Henry Willink who in 1944, as the health minister in Winston Churchill’s wartime government, unveiled a health policy white paper that first set out the government’s intention to create a national health service along the lines that were established in 1948.
Teenager Freya Lewis, a survivor of the Manchester terror attack who suffered 29 separate injuries, and Dr Martin Griffiths, a leading NHS trauma surgeon who led a team treating victims of the London Bridge attack, will be among those taking part in the Westminster Abbey service, which begins at noon.
Freya paid tribute to the “incredible care” she received at the Royal Manchester children’s hospital.
“What happened last May showed the very darkest side of humanity but so many things that I have experienced since have shown me and my family how amazing people can be,” she said.
Singer Linda Nolan, who is being treated for breast cancer, will host a choral concert at York Minster. She will be joined by 15-year-old Eve Senior, another survivor of the Manchester Arena attack, who wants to become a nurse, and Amen Dhesi who – aged 13 – became a carer for his dad who has bipolar disorder.
The services will be attended by about 3,000 NHS staff from across the country as well as representatives of charities, councils, and other key NHS partners.
The NHS is one of the world’s largest employers, with more than 1.5 million staff, among them Aileen Coomber, 81, a mental health nurse at Sussex Partnership NHS foundation trust, whose employment in the service has spanned 65 years so far.
She will carry in the manifest at the Westminster Abbey service. Coomber still remembers life before the NHS when her mother could not always afford to take her to the doctor.
She said: “I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to join the NHS as a nursing scholar at the age of 15, three days after the introduction of the NHS. For me, our health service is the pride of the nation, the greatest gift in the western world.”