NHS Celebrates 70th Birthday

The NHS has an emotional and practical status for the public that is hard to underestimate. Labour movement figures rightly claim it as one of our finest achievements. Today we celebrate the NHS’ 70th birthday. It’s the perfect opportunity to celebrate the achievements of an institution that has bound us together for the last 70 years and to recognise and thank the extraordinary NHS staff who are there to care for us day in, day out.

The NHS was founded in 1948 by the then Labour Health Minister Aneurin Bevan MP. It was a time when those who could pay got care. Those who could not afford to pay went without, suffering with their illness. The impact of the NHS upon creation was immediate. For many people receiving their NHS membership card literally changes their lives overnight. It instantly took away the uncertainty, insecurity and financial worries that they had always lived with.

As we celebrate this birthday we also celebrate the different choices that we are continuing to take here in Wales. Free from privatisation, free prescriptions for all, more patients receiving treatment and surviving cancer than ever before and record numbers of NHS staff, the Welsh NHS has remained true to the socialist principles on which it was founded.

However, we know that the NHS can’t stay as it is. Our health service faces unprecedented challenges with rising demand, expectation and long term public health challenges. These are the same challenges every healthcare system in the developed world faces. These are the same challenges that the NHS faced in Bevan’s time. From the beginning the NHS has faced funding challenges, ‘spiralling budgets’, arguments about structural and organisational arrangement, capacity issues and the ‘rationing’ of services.

We know that we need to make changes to the way we provide care to ensure that we have a health service capable of responding to the needs of the Welsh population now and in the future. I’ve said before, there has to be a serious, mature debate about the future of our health service. We cannot duck forever the serious questions that face us all on the future of the NHS. I am an optimist by nature. My optimism is spurred on by the staff I meet. From physios to midwives, health visitors, nurses, doctors, and all of the admin staff who help to keep our service running there are so many inspiring committed staff. Our NHS is the envy of much of the world and with good reason. We should not take it for granted. We should cherish and support it for all that the NHS has done and will do.