NHS at 70: Tributes pour in as health service marks 70 years of caring for us

Tributes have flooded in as the country marks 70 years since the birth of the NHS which came into being on 5 July, 1948.

The NHS logo as the National Health Service (NHS) prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary. Picture; PA
The NHS logo as the National Health Service (NHS) prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary. Picture; PA

UK-wide celebrations include services at Westminster Abbey and York Minster, with guests including Freya Lewis, a survivor of the Manchester terrorist attack who suffered 29 separate injuries, and Dr Martin Griffiths, a leading NHS trauma surgeon who led a team treating victims of the London Bridge terrorist attack.

Seven decades after the National Health Service was created, Scottish politicians have told moving stories of the impact the service and its staff had had on their lives.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Scottish Labour’s Daniel Johnson told how his baby daughter had undergone surgery when she was just 12 hours old, saying the care the youngster received would have “cost hundreds of thousands of pounds if we had to pay for it ourselves”.

Fellow Labour MSP Monica Lennon told how the NHS had successfully treated her mother’s cancer – and had also cared for her when she had a heart attack mid-way through the treatment.

The stories emerged in a members’ debate at Holyrood before the Scottish Parliament went into summer recess. Mr Johnson, the MSP for Edinburgh Southern, recalled how his daughter spent four months in Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children after she was born in 2012 with a blocked intestine.

He said: “Within 12 hours of her birth she was in an operating theatre because of an intestinal atresia, where there is a blockage created in the gut through an interruption in the blood supply. I’ll never forget those experiences, those first few hours, days and months.

“I will never forget holding my wife’s hand in the operating theatre as she went through the emergency Caesarean section, and I’ll never forget some of the smallest details when I was talking to the surgeons before and after the operation – the things in the room and what they were wearing. I can’t tell you what they said because it was so overwhelming I couldn’t take it in.

“I will be forever thankful because I now have a happy six-year-old.”

Ms Lennon, a Central Scotland MSP, told how her mother, Helen, had been “very well looked after” by health staff after it was discovered she had an unusual type of cancer in her colon, with the “slight complication” of suffering a heart attack part way through her treatment.

In a letter read out by Ms Lennon, her mother said: “I owe my life to the NHS. The hard-working doctors, nurses, radiologists, oncologists, surgeons, colorectal nurses, cardiologists, anaesthetists, paramedics and the auxiliary staff who looked after me are true heroes in my eyes.

“I fully support the NHS and hope we never take it for granted. Happy 70th birthday NHS – because of you I will see many more birthdays with my family, continue to work and contribute to society and our nation.”

Ms Lennon added: “Both she and I and all of our family are so grateful for the amazing care she has received over the last year.”

Green MSP for Glasgow Patrick Harvie spoke about the impact the NHS had on his childhood, recalling his mother had worked night shifts as a midwife.

He said: “My experience of the NHS wasn’t just seeing my mum going out to work there and come back early in the morning as we were getting ready for school, because I was also a bit of a sickly child.

“I was in and out of hospitals very often with infections and with long-term kidney damage as a result of those infections, and I became a bit of a human pincushion – perhaps I may even at times have resented having to go through so many treatments.

“But now standing here, I can reflect on the fact that I, and so many, many other people wouldn’t even know if we would be able to stand here today and make a contribution in a debate like this if we hadn’t had access to those health services. So the gratitude we all need to convey is deep and profound.”

In contrast, SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson told how he had been born before the creation of the NHS – and his mother had needed to undergo expensive surgery for an ectopic pregnancy the year before.

He said: “I have here a copy of a medical bill my mother had to pay. The year before I was born, she had an ectopic pregnancy, a pregnancy in the fallopian tube. She had to go to hospital, have that fallopian tube removed, a very serious operation.

“Fortunately it was done with such skill she was then able to give birth to me, her first live birth, and two subsequent children.

“But the point is the amount of money that is on this bill is three-and-a-half weeks of the average working man or woman’s wage at that time. She was fortunate to come from a family that could afford that.

“The health service was something that it made it possible for that quality of service my mother was able fortunately to pay for to be available to all.

“I congratulate the health service on its upcoming 70th birthday; we are all grateful for its enduring contribution to our society.”

New Health Secretary Jeane Freeman made clear her opposition to private sector involvement in the NHS on the eve of the anniversary – saying while it is legitimate for private firms working in the health service to seek to make a profit, she could “not see how that circle can be squared” with a system which provides free care at the point of delivery.

In this regard she hailed the NHS as being an “absolute exemplar of values that are important”.

She said: “They were important in 1948, they are important now, so the job of someone like me, but also people who work in the health service, is to look and see what we need to do, how do we need to adapt and change in order to meet those expectations of a changing population and how do we fund that model of care, much of which will be as we currently know it, some of which will be new.

“We’ve started that – that is what integrated health and social care is about, that is what our health delivery plan is trying to do.”

She added: “Since 1948 the NHS has delivered huge medical advances and improvements to public health, meaning we can expect to live longer, healthier lives.

“It has all but eradicated diseases such as polio and diphtheria, and Scotland itself has a long and proud history of delivering medical advances, from the establishment of ultrasound to the UK’s first successful kidney transplant and advances in the use of keyhole surgery.

“As we look ahead we want to ensure Scotland’s NHS continues to be a world-leader in compassionate, quality healthcare. I look forward to working closely with our health service staff as we build on our successes and create services that are fit for the future.”

Dr Peter Bennie, the outgoing chairman of BMA Scotland, called on Holyrood ministers to act to “ensure we have an NHS in Scotland that we can celebrate for many birthdays to come”.