NHS celebrates 75th anniversary with service at Westminster Abbey

By Jo Makosinski | 3-Jul-2023

Guests will pay tribute to the work of the NHS and the innnovation which has underpinned its history

In the same year the NHS celebrates its 75th anniversary, the Building Better Healthcare Awards is marking its 25th year recognising and rewarding excellence in the creation of therapeutic healthcare environments and showcasing innovation in products and services.
Entries for this year's awards will close on Friday. Click here for further details.

Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, will be joined by NHS staff, senior government and political leaders, health leaders, and celebrities at a service at Westminster Abbey on Wednesday to celebrate the NHS’s 75th birthday.

The service, to be held at 11am, will include an address by NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard.

Guests in the Abbey paying tribute will include around 1,500 NHS staff, as well as famous names including Mel Giedroyc and other supporters of NHS Charities Together.

May Parsons, an associate chief nurse who delivered the world’s first vaccine outside of a clinical trial in December 2020, will carry the George Cross into the Abbey in a procession.

From its foundation in the aftermath of World War II, to the world’s first test tube baby and administering the first COVID vaccine – the NHS is an institution that deserves its title as a national treasure

She will be joined by 17-year-old Kyle Dean-Curtis, St John Ambulance cadet of the year, who wants to work in the NHS; and 91-year-old Enid Richmond, who was one of the first people to work in the NHS as a junior clerical worker and whose sister still volunteers in the health service.

Prayers will be read by Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay; chief nurse, Dame Ruth May; NHS national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis; Chief Allied Health Professions officer, Professor Suzanne Rastrick OBE; and Richard Webb-Stevens, a paramedic who was first on the scene of the Westminster Bridge terror attack and who holds the Queen’s Ambulance Medal for Distinguished Service.

Testimonies will also be given by Dame Elizabeth Anionwu OM, the UK’s first sickle cell nurse, academic and author; Ellie Orton, chief executive of NHS Charities Together, and Dr Martin English and Dr Michael Griksaitis, NHS consultants who jointly led a team who evacuated 21 Ukrainian children with cancer over to the UK from Poland in March 2022, following the Russian invasion.

Dame Ruth May said: “The NHS has truly been built upon the millions of hardworking NHS staff and volunteers who have shaped its course over the last three quarters of a century, constantly innovating and adapting to the new challenges they have faced – most recently the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected all our lives – to care for generation after generation, and it will be a fantastic honour to celebrate our health service’s 75th birthday and thank each of those incredible staff and volunteers.

I want to thank all the staff who have ever worked in the NHS, from the doctors and nurses caring for our loved ones, to the cleaners and porters keeping our hospitals in order, and our social care workers, paramedics, physiotherapists, and many more who do an outstanding job each and every day

“As well as the service, there are countless events and special moments over the next week which everyone can get involved with, with many opportunities to not only look back on all that the NHS has achieved, but also to look ahead to what new opportunities and innovations we can grasp in our next 75 years.”

Orton added: “NHS charities have been working alongside the NHS since its inception, and I like to think of us as a mirror that reflects the public’s love and gratitude for the incredible workforce and all they do.

The winners of the NHS staff and volunteers anniversary photographic competition included Ewa Gasior from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust whose image captures a coming together of NHS staff alongside hundreds of thousands of volunteers, partners, charities and beyond

The winners of the NHS staff and volunteers anniversary photographic competition included Ewa Gasior from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust whose image captures a coming together of NHS staff alongside hundreds of thousands of volunteers, partners, charities and beyond

“Today that love is as strong as ever, as is clear from every donation made, every marathon run, and every volunteer who shows up.

“They do it to say thank you – and I hope that as we celebrate this incredible milestone, the people of the NHS know just how valued they are.”

One of the events planned to celebrate the anniversary is photography competition, the results of which were officially announced today.

The competition, run by NHS England in partnership with Fujifilm, saw hundreds of NHS staff and volunteers enter five categories celebrating people, innovations, environment, care, and partners. 

And the five winning images, which include pictures taken by a senior pharmacist, research nurse, and paramedic, will be displayed at the Westminster Abbey service.

As we look ahead to the future, I am focused on investing in our workforce to ensure it is properly resourced and adopting the latest technology so we can deliver on our commitment to cut waiting lists so the NHS can continue to provide the best care for patients

In addition, across the country landmark sites will light up blue on Wednesday evening, with people encouraged to take photos and share them via social media using the hashtag #NHS75 and #LightUpBlue.

Barclay said: “As we mark this milestone, we can be so proud of everything the NHS has achieved over the last 75 years.

“From its foundation in the aftermath of World War II, to the world’s first test tube baby and administering the first COVID vaccine – the NHS is an institution that deserves its title as a national treasure.

“I want to thank all the staff who have ever worked in the NHS, from the doctors and nurses caring for our loved ones, to the cleaners and porters keeping our hospitals in order, and our social care workers, paramedics, physiotherapists, and many more who do an outstanding job each and every day.

“As we look ahead to the future, I am focused on investing in our workforce to ensure it is properly resourced and adopting the latest technology so we can deliver on our commitment to cut waiting lists so the NHS can continue to provide the best care for patients.”

Joe Cartwright of South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust captured this image of paramedics fighting the Beast from the East, which won the 'Our Environment' category at the anniversary photography awards

Joe Cartwright of South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust captured this image of paramedics fighting the Beast from the East, which won the 'Our Environment' category at the anniversary photography awards

75 years of innovation

Treating over a million people a day in England, the NHS touches all our lives.

When it was founded in 1948, the NHS was the first universal health system to be available to all, free at the point of delivery.

And, over the past 75 years, it has evolved and adapted to meet the needs of each successive generation – from Britain’s first kidney transplant in 1960, to Europe’s first liver transplant in 1968 and from the world’s first CT scan on a patient in 1971, to the world’s first test-tube baby born in 1978.

Large-scale vaccination programmes protected children from whooping cough, measles, and tuberculosis, and in 1999 the meningitis C vaccine was offered nationally in a world first.

The NHS has also delivered huge medical advances, including the world’s first liver, heart, and lung transplant in 1987; and pioneering new treatments, such as bionic eyes and, in more-recent times, the world’s first rapid whole genome sequencing service for seriously-ill babies and children.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, having a single national health service enabled scientists to carry out research at an unprecedented scale and find the world’s first effective treatment for COVID-19, dexamethasone, making it available across every hospital the same day it was approved.

As we look ahead, embracing innovation is critical in enabling the NHS model to deliver better outcomes for our growing population

And the NHS is now a leader in adopting innovative medicines, with industry data showing there are five treatments available in England for every four in Europe, as well as almost a third more cancer drugs.

In 2022 alone, robotics systems helped to treat patients with prostate cancer and get them back to their homes less than 24 hours after surgery.

The NHS also saw the first new treatment for sickle cell disease in over two decades and the 100th cancer drug was fasttracked to patients through the NHS Cancer Drugs Fund.

In addition, the post-COVID era has seen integrated care systems set up across England, bringing health and care providers together to address health inequalities and plan services to better meet the needs of patients.

These local health and care services are designing new pro-active models of care, improving health and wellbeing today and for future generations.

An NHS England statement reads: “The NHS is very proud of how its staff worked tirelessly to respond to the pandemic and care for thousands of patients. But the virus is still with us, and dealing with its after effects will take us, and other health systems across the world, several years to fully recover.

“Having an NHS today is helping with the most-ambitious catch-up programme in health service history.

“Last summer, hospitals across England worked together to ensure that the longest waits for elective care were virtually eliminated, and 18-month waits fell from a high of almost 125,000 to under 33,000 by February 2023.

Everywhere you look, innovation is helping the NHS rise to these challenges, easing pressures and providing ground-breaking diagnosis and treatments

“Major recovery plans – one on elective care and a second on urgent and emergency care – have set out how we will stabilise and recover these NHS services and create a solid platform to deliver our long-term ambitions.

“And a plan to improve GP access and a workforce strategy are set to follow, creating clear and much-needed direction.”

And the NHS said technology will play a key role in its recovery.

“As we look ahead, embracing innovation is critical in enabling the NHS model to deliver better outcomes for our growing population.” It says.

“That means using IT and data more effectively; integrating health and social care; getting better at preventing illness, not just treating it; and speeding up the introduction of 21st-century genomics-based medicine.​

“Innovating for future generations also means developing new services, such as our NHS National Centre for Gaming Disorders, the UK’s only clinic to support people with gaming disorders, and specialist addiction services for those suffering from gambling disorders, with seven clinics live across the country.

“England has also become the first country in the world to launch clinical training in perinatal mental health using extended reality (XR) technology.

“And more than 100,000 patients have been treated in NHS virtual wards in the last year for conditions such as frailty and acute respiratory infection, freeing up capacity in our hospitals and allowing patients to get care at home.

“Everywhere you look, innovation is helping the NHS rise to these challenges, easing pressures and providing ground-breaking diagnosis and treatments.

“The NHS is committed to transforming services, delivering for patients, and better understanding the local populations we serve.

“We know we have much to do, but through modernising our outpatient services, rolling out new pro-active and preventative models of care, and creating a sustainable system for the future, we will ensure the NHS continues to be the healthcare envy of the world.”

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