A few months ago I was helping my son with a school project, and we ended up watching a video of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. It’s barely six years old, but already it felt like a wistful look back to another time: a celebration of our scientists, artists and our NHS. A Britain that was ingenious, witty and welcoming, and very difficult to the polarised and cynical world of Brexit.
But this summer feels like we have got a bit of the good Britain back, there’s a little more cheer and optimism in the air. There are many factors: the success of England’s World Cup team who eschewed bragging and snarling for hard work and genuine warmth, is the one many would cite.
But I think the 70thbirthday of the NHS gave us a genuine national moment too. People reflected on what they owed to the service and its staff; the reassurance of excellent care without the fear of an crippling bill at the end. I think of the 1940s kids on this month’s cover, waiting for their jabs. The NHS will have added a decade to their lifespan
There is a danger of wrapping the service up in aspic, harking back to the spirit of the 1948. The complexity and cost of health services have risen in direct proportion to its success. The NHS started with a budget of £437m (£15bn in today’s money). By 2023-24, it will be £150bn (say what you like about outgoing Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, securing another £30bn for the NHS from this austerity-mad Government takes some skill). This is a different world where nurses are skilled clinicians as well as carers, and where social care, housing and lifestyle advice matter more than the morbidity megastore of a large acute hospital.
The story of the next 70 years of the NHS should be about primary and community care leading the way with the help of technology, and care brought closer to the patient wherever possible. Football may not be coming home, but hopefully health is.