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'Why we must protect the NHS'

BACK IN THE DAY: NHS nurses

TODAY MARKS the 65th anniversary of the creation of the NHS when Aneurin Bevan, the secretary of state for health, opened Park Hospital in Manchester.

After WW2 there was a clear but ambitious plan to bring about good and, most importantly, free healthcare to all at the point of access regardless of income, class or gender.

It was major feat to bring together hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists under one umbrella organisation called the National Health Service.

However, with increased life expectancy over the last 30 years and changing lifestyles this has increased demand for healthcare particularly in cases of long-term conditions such as diabetes, cancer and stroke.

We also have an ageing population with increasing health issues around dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Obesity is now a problem for children and working adults. We also have to recognise that the impact of the cuts – the ‘bedroom tax’, welfare reform – and scapegoating of vulnerable people and low-income families will potentially drive people into mental health services as people’s self-esteem, resilience, and well-being are tested to the limit.

This will be future agenda for the NHS and local government over the next 20 years.

Racial health inequalities are getting wider and with increased privisation of the NHS this will potentially widen the gap.

We need a fundamental shift in the culture of the NHS to ensure the needs of black and minority ethnic (BME) communities are being delivered.

This means addressing the diversity of experiences within communities while delivering services, developing systems to enable BME communities to influence policy making at the top level, supporting community-led social marketing campaigns to challenge inequalities and raise awareness, setting mandatory duty for accountability on delivering health equality outcomes and monitoring the commissioning process for effectiveness in meeting community needs and recognising and respecting cultural nuance.

Yet despite the problems facing the NHS we should still be proud to cherish and protect this important institution which is the envy of the world.

I was very proud to work for the NHS in Brent along with many other former colleagues over the years, helping to improve health services for local people by strengthening the quality of delivery with intelligent commissioning based on community need and engagement.

However, constant restructuring of the NHS often results in low morale and in good staff with local knowledge – often women and BME professionals – being forced out or being demoted in the name of cost savings and reducing bureaucracy.

At the same time a new tier of non-unionised workers often over paid consultants are employed creating a false economy of savings.

What we must remember is that when the NHS was established in a period of austerity in the aftermath of World War II, West Indians were invited to follow of by Enoch Powell, the minister for health, to join its workforce.

We must again renew our public commitment and collective responsibility that NHS must still be run, owned and delivered by the community for the community and not for profit for the few.

Happy Birthday NHS! We love you and we will protect you for another 65 years.

Patrick Vernon OBE is a committee member of Healthwatch England and associate member for the Department of History of Medicine at Warwick University

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