This year we have seen the huge popularity of the NHS celebrated as we mark its 70th anniversary. On the day we celebrate that birthday, Councillor Rebecca Charlwood, Leeds City Council Executive Member for Adults and Health, highlights thoughts about this anniversary.
For most of us born after the Second World War, the NHS is something we take for granted; it has been there all our lives, a sure pair of hands for major life events – births, accidents and illness – from the cradle to the grave. It has also been there for the coughs and bad backs, twinges and mystery aches that won’t go away.
This is a healthcare system for all the public, meeting the need identified by its founder, Aneurin Bevan. From a time when people were scared to seek medical help because of the potential bills, a funded system paid for by working people meant families needed to no longer dread illness being an inevitable precursor to poverty.
From 5 July 1948, for the first time, hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists were brought together under one umbrella to provide services for free at the point of delivery.
Seventy years later, the NHS deals with over 1 million patients every 36 hours.
In Leeds we have a complex, interactive and hardworking range of health provision, including Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, Leeds Community Healthcare and Leeds & York Partnership Foundation Trust, along with Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group, who oversee the 108 GP surgeries in the city.
We are also home to headquarter buildings for the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS – major employers in the city and sources of expertise and information.
As a city Leeds has health in our DNA.
We are considered emergency medicine’s birthplace, thanks to a medic at the LGI called Maurice Ellis who was the world’s first A&E consultant. We’ve had pioneering surgeons, and led amazing developments in surgery, surgical tools and more recently artificial limbs.
Leeds is now one of the leading cities in medical technology and health care innovation.
We also have one of the largest academic health partnerships in the country – of which the council is a member – with world class expertise at its fingertips driving forward learning and development for 57,000 health and care professionals in the city.
But we shouldn’t forget that this year is the 70th birthday of social care too, so really, we should be celebrating two birthdays – for at the same time as the NHS Act, the National Assistance Act also came into force to:
‘… provide help to elderly Britons who required supplementary benefits to make a subsistence living and obliged local authorities to provide suitable accommodation for those who through infirmity, age, or any other reason were in need of care and attention not otherwise available…’
In Leeds we work collaboratively to bring health and social care even closer together. For example we are helping more people live independently for longer, be more physically active for longer, more connected to their community and able to recover and return home quicker after a hospital stay. Better for patients and their families, better for hard-pressed hospitals.
We are working to reduce preventable illnesses, including types of cancer, by helping to increase physical activity and healthy living services.
And as a city with areas that have faced the brunt of austerity, we are investing in services to help those who are the poorest improve their health the fastest.
We are immensely proud of our achievements in health and social care – did you know Leeds is rated the best city of all major cities in the country for health and wellbeing? Among other things, we were rated highest for self-reported happiness and healthy life expectancy.
However, our achievements have been in the face of immense funding challenges and demographic changes which increase demands on services in ways that were unimaginable in 1948. After all, in 1948, the life expectancy for men was 66, and for women, 71. Today those figures are 77.2 and 81.5.
I know we cannot rest on our laurels – there is so much more to be done, but I know we have the right ambitions to have a strong economy and be compassionate city, supported by the right partnerships and systems so we are trusted, as a city, to meet the challenges we face. With our Leeds Health and Wellbeing Strategy guiding the Health and Wellbeing Board, we are building on the many strengths and assets in our city to build in Bevan’s vision for the next 70 years.
I hope you will join me in celebrating the birthday of the NHS. On Thursday 5 July, Leeds will turn blue to join with NHS and the rest of the country, with buildings, including the Civic Hall and many others marking the day.
And while we’re talking health and history – don’t forget to visit our amazing Thackray museum where you can find out more about medicine in Leeds and how it’s changed over the decades.