The NHS – how far we’ve come in seventy years

Who would have thought that, at its birth 70 years ago, the NHS would still be standing today? That’s quite some achievement – and back in 1948, life expectancy was only 66 for men and 71 for women; 70 years later, it’s 77 for men and 81 for women.

So, we’re certainly living longer now; but our quality of life has to be considered too, and in many cases, that’s not looking as good. In fact, some have taken to calling our National Health Service a National Illness Service instead. But we’re more aware than ever that health is more than just physical wellness; we have to take the whole person into account. There’s nothing else on Earth like our NHS, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from the rest of the world.

We constantly hear stories from frustrated staff, carers, and patients about how often the systems of the NHS are getting in the way of real care and recovery. Recently, I was talking with the Chief Inspector of Hospitals, who told me that the best services were the ones that didn’t focus on meeting targets (like patients being seen within four hours), but instead focused on the people. And in those services, the hitting of targets then happens as a happy by-product.

Lastly, we must not think that the success of the NHS lies solely in the hands of the hospitals, the doctors and the nurses. Next week, we’ll be announcing the winners of the FaithAction Faith and Health Award – exemplary faith-led provisions that are helping to make the NHS a success. It makes sense that healthcare can only work if social care and communities are able to do their bit too.

The truth remains that a problem becomes a crisis when there is no-one to talk to. Do you have someone to talk to if a problem hits in the middle of the night? Could you be that ‘someone’ for someone else? The NHS and the welfare state cannot replace family, faith, or community, but it definitely can be a great partner to it.