July 05, 2018
Politicians, staff and patients pay tribute to health service at Westminster Abbey ceremony
NHS hailed as unifying ideal on 70th anniversary
The boss of the NHS has lauded the service as an enduring “unifying ideal” for people across Britain, as politicians, staff and patients queued up to pay tribute to the health service on its 70th birthday.
At a service of celebration at Westminster Abbey for 2,200 NHS staff, Simon Stevens, the NHS England chief executive, quoted the archbishop of Canterbury’s view that the NHS was “the most powerful and visible expression of our Christian heritage” because it “sprang out of a concern that the poor should be able to be treated as well as the rich”.
Stevens said: “This has become a unifying ideal, across this nation and down the generations. A health service that belongs to us all. To those of all faiths and of none.”
Martin Griffiths, a trauma surgeon who also spoke at the event, said: “The NHS is a grand lady who watches over us every day.”
Freya Lewis, 15, who underwent 13 operations and more than 70 hours of surgery after being seriously injured in last year’s Manchester Arena bombing, recalled how staff at the city’s children’s hospital had helped her to walk again. “The NHS saved my life and got me back to normal. The NHS is the best thing in the world,” she said.
Thousands of tea parties were held on Thursday to mark the 70th anniversary of the creation of the NHS on 5 July 1948 by Clement Attlee’s postwar Labour government. Buildings including town halls, York Minster and Everton football club’s Goodison Park stadium were lit up in blue – the NHS’s colour – in celebration.
Sophie, Countess of Wessex, represented the royal family at the abbey, where Attlee is buried. Jeremy Hunt, the health and social care secretary, and Philip Hammond, the chancellor, represented the government, which recently agreed to give the NHS in England a £20bn funding boost by 2023-24.
Doctors, nurses and many other staff, some in uniform, and patients, some on crutches and others in wheelchairs, formed the congregation at the service.
NHS hailed as unifying ideal on 70th anniversary
In a message to guests in the order of service, Theresa May thanked “one of our nation’s most precious institutions” and its staff now and down the years. “My own personal thanks go to all those who support me in managing my diabetes,” the prime minister added.
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Guy Opperman, the Conservative MP for Hexham in Northumberland, marked the anniversary by writing in Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle about the “incredible debt” he owed to the NHS after it twice saved his life.
On the first occasion he had fallen and been crushed by a horse while competing as a jockey in a race at Stratford. “My entire left side was staved in, giving me 14 broken ribs, a kidney cut in half, a perforated spleen and a pneumothorax – when you pop a rib through your lungs.”
The second time was when he collapsed in the House of Commons in 2011 and was found to have “a brain tumour the size of a woman’s fist”. On both occasions, he wrote, he was saved by the skill of NHS doctors and surgeons.
Away from the events and the tributes, at King’s College hospital in south London, Sister Lauren Turner was seeing patients through A&E. As nurse-in-charge, she was assigning staff to all the patients being treated, trying to keep on top of the four-hour target. “We’ve had someone removed already for threatening behaviour,” she said. “That’s not the best part of the job. It can just be so busy, and you still have keep people safe. I never want to see people waiting for seven hours, elderly people who need to see a doctor.”
At her unit, the day had also seen a cardiac arrest, a patient in resuscitation, another sent to intensive care, but also minor limb injuries where staff can “patch them up and send them home”.
The department has seen three major incidents in the past year, the Westminster and London Bridge terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire.
“When they declare a major incident, we have to clear the whole department. It’s stressful but it’s also why so many of us work here, it’s the kind of people we are, the drama, the life-saving element. That’s why we do the job,” said Turner.
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