My proudest NHS moment

27 Jun 2018

Like so many others, I am proud of the NHS and what it stands for. For the most part, it has managed to stick to its founding principles, in particular that care is given based on need rather than a person’s ability to pay for it.

As someone not born in the UK (I am originally from Kenya), the NHS has always been for me part of what makes Britain such an appealing place to live and work.  Indeed it’s part of the very identity of modern Britain.

The nationwide celebrations around the 70th anniversary of the NHS are richly deserved.

Yet there’s no disguising the fact that the health service isn’t perfect and faces deep-seated challenges.  So, while we are rightly celebrating the past and present of the NHS, our attention as healthcare professionals providing NHS services is also on the future.  What needs to be done now to ensure that the NHS is here to meet our needs and those of our children and grandchildren for the next 70 years?

That’s a long time, and the NHS tends to plan in rather short budgetary cycles. So it is perhaps a positive sign that the UK Space Agency has been commissioned to look at how technology developed for space exploration may be adapted for future NHS use!  I also welcome the announcement of a 10 year plan for the NHS, and the associated five year boost to funding, which is long overdue and completely necessary.

This is an opportunity to innovate but also to unlock the potential of existing infrastructure and workforce.  Any truly ambitious plan should therefore include community pharmacy, which has the potential to transform primary care, reduce medicines waste and massively improve access to NHS services.  Positioned in the heart of communities, pharmacies are also well placed to contribute much more to disease prevention and address health inequalities.

So, when the NHS turns 80, how should we test the success or otherwise of the forthcoming 10 year plan?   Here I offer my own ‘acid tests’ of the plan and the associated financial investment:

  1. Will the poorest patients and communities have benefited from the new investment; will the differences in health outcomes between the better off and worse off have reduced?
  2. Will the NHS be a truly ‘Neighbourhood’ health service as well as a National Health Service, with more services provided close to home by providers embedded in local communities?
  3. Will the NHS be using technology to achieve efficiencies but without having lost the human touch in health care, characterised by advice, support and treatment delivered face to face?
  4. Will the health service look more like a wellness service than an illness service, with an effective programme for prevention and health improvement?
  5. Will the potential of the entire health and social care workforce have been realised – not only doctors and nurses but local pharmacists and many others too?

Of these, perhaps the first is the most poignant measure.  The Prime Minister called it a “burning injustice” that, “if you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others”.   I agree.  Let’s all work together to bring that injustice to an end.

Author: Nitin Sodha (Chair, National Pharmacy Association) – The NHS at 70