The NHS turned 70 this week, which has led me to reflect on my time with the NHS both as a professional and on a personal level but also my feelings towards the NHS as an organisation and its future.
Having worked in the communications office of a busy ‘super-hospital’ and in the press office of a University which is inextricably linked with the NHS, I’ve had a really good and privileged behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in the NHS and get to know some of the people who work there.
I’ve been able to go into an operating theatre to watch a surgeon remove a potentially cancerous lump from a woman’s breast; I’ve been able to speak to a nurse about why they chose this particular career despite the long hours and low pay; and I’ve been able to see how a new research centre can reinvigorate a scientist’s desire to keep trying to find a cure for some of the deadliest diseases we face.
What has come across during my time with these people, which I don’t think comes across in some of the news coverage we see (certainly with the more negative stories of the NHS) is the compassion and the care that these people give and have about their job. Having worked alongside nurses, doctors, researchers, scientists, admin staff, estates and facilities staff, physios, executives (the list could go on) within the NHS or connected to it, I can tell you that there so much grace, talent and work ethic that takes place in the NHS.
But there is also an element of constant firefighting in the NHS. The constant scrutiny that the NHS is under from the media and the community is sometimes staggering. When I worked at the hospital, there was always an enquiry that needed to be answered that had an element of negativity about it. And sadly, sometimes that was all that was printed.
It is absolutely right the press and the public hold NHS organisations to account, but I would be lying if I said that I did not wish that the positive stories would make their way into the news pages a bit more.
However, on a personal note, I have never learnt more about PR or communications than when I worked at the hospital and then at the University. I’ve learnt how to deal with a challenging enquiry, how to write about medical conditions that I don’t know how to pronounce the name of and about crisis communications. Without that experience, I wouldn’t be able to do what I am doing today and for that, I am very grateful.
I’m also grateful for the personal care that I have received from the NHS. My daughter was brought into this world in an NHS hospital by NHS midwives. My mother was cared for in and NHS intensive care ward before she passed away, by staff who never left her bedside. My husband had a back operation and received physio by dedicated NHS staff. And there are too many examples of countless sporting injuries my various teammates over the years and I, have had treated.
As an organisation it has its flaws. Many of us have waited over four hours in the emergency department to be seen or had an appointment cancelled. Some stories are much worse than this, I know.
But it is still an organisation that we – and by that, I mean everyone – should cherish and work hard to protect.
With an ageing population, demand on social care services and services to treat age-related conditions are going to be under immense strain; with the country’s waistline getting bigger more needs to be done to prevent obesity otherwise non-communicable disease rates are going to go through the roof and more investment needs to be put into nursing – we need more registered nurses with qualifications on wards to look after sick people.
So, let’s not rush to the Emergency Department if we’ve got a grazed knee; let’s do a bit more exercise to shed some pounds and let’s not demand antibiotics for a cold that has been around for 24 hours.
And to the people that run it…Jeremy Hunt, I am looking at you here…please take a long, hard look at the NHS and work through its challenges, which will get inevitably worse if something isn’t done. Please invest more in the NHS workforce and its services.
This country is proud that the NHS is for everyone, so everyone needs to take responsibility.In today’s society we are prone to taking things for granted and only missing them when they’re gone. And if we are not careful this is the way the NHS will go.
As for me, I will continue to work with and be inspired by the NHS and the people connected to it and keep trying to push the stories that matter, whether it’s research into nursing care left undone, a new clinical trial for childhood cancer or music therapy to help vulnerable people in care homes. Because these stories matter and so does the NHS.