With the NHS birthday week having now come to a close, obstetric physician, fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and regional advisor for England, Dr Anita Banerjee reflects on her relationship with the NHS and how it inspired her own journey into medicine.
I’ve always believed that it’s a privilege to be part of the NHS. My loved ones and I have been treated here, and I have studied and worked in the NHS for more than thirty years – I even met my husband here!
I remember one of my first encounters with the health service, when I was just seven years old. I broke my arm, so my father brought me to the hospital; he had always been my greatest supporter. He was asked: ‘Would you like to hold your daughter’s hand?’ as they treated the fracture. As much as my father wanted to be there for me, he could not bear the sight of blood or seeing anyone he loved in pain. Instead, it was the medical students and nurses who looked after me and held my hand in the room. I never forgot the care and kindness they showed me.
Across these past 75 years, the NHS has gone through eras of change. The first 25 years were dedicated to launching and establishing truly universal national healthcare provision service. The following 25 years focused on the rapid expansion of delivery of healthcare, coupled with an explosive period of drug research and development. Now, we’re looking at the new roles of technology and digitisation systems, and the management of long-term conditions. It has transformed from a rather old-fashioned patriarchal model to a patient-centred teamwork approach.
The NHS has become a global institution, leading the way to provide high-quality care, free at the point of access, and open to all. We’ve been hailed as the new standard of healthcare delivery for a nation, and people flocked to our centres to learn and work with us. I have met people from across the globe here in the NHS, some visiting and learning, others making it their home.
But the world is continuing to change. We now work within a transactional, larger system made from a constellation of smaller systems. A machine with high throughput also comes with many challenges, of which I’m sure we are all aware. There is a need for a change in mindset to safeguard the wellbeing of staff and ensure that the system remains efficient and sustainable – while keeping patient safety and experience at its core.
So, what will we be celebrating at the centenary of the NHS? I believe the future lies in working towards equity, the removal of inequalities and disparities and truly valuing good health. Meanwhile, I see a shift to an emphasis on the prevention of disease and not only treatment, but cure.