The chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust explores why the NHS’s 70th birthday presents a golden opportunity for health and social care.
Given the pressure facing the whole health and social care system, some might consider the NHS open to the charge of naval gazing by spending time and effort celebrating its 70th birthday. I couldn’t disagree more.
Everywhere I go across our own services at Sussex Partnership, I meet staff who continuously put in every effort to maintain the high standard of care they would want for their own families and friends. These are colleagues who are passionate about what the NHS stands for: care free at the point of delivery for all, whatever your background or social circumstances. They believe the NHS is special; something to cherish and hold on to.
At the same time, I talk to service leaders (which is how we are starting to refer patients at Sussex Partnership), carers and families committed to help improve NHS care. They work alongside us to help us change the way we do things and improve services.
But, to be frank, the system we operate isn’t always conducive to care delivery of the highest quality. For all the things we are proud of, there are aspects of service provision where we know we are letting people down. One example in our area is mental health crisis care, where 20 per cent of A&E attendances are accounted for by the 7 per cent of the population who use mental health services.
This unarguably illustrates the need to get the investment and crisis care pathways in place that will enable our staff to deliver the very best possible care to vulnerable people when they need it most.
More broadly, the sustained demands NHS services are managing can sometimes place staff under intolerable levels of stress. Healthcare starts with self-care – we need to nurture the health and wellbeing of all those who work within our services. We are, after all, a people-based service.
And yet, amid all the pressure and the headlines about a service stretched to breaking point, our staff continue to provide compassionate, high-quality care, treatment and support. I feel truly humbled when I see first-hand the lengths they go to on behalf of patients and families. To my mind, the NHS’s 70th anniversary is a good opportunity to thank everyone working across all our health and social care services.
At the same time, the anniversary provides us with the chance to showcase what we do well and celebrate the strengths and founding principles of the NHS. At Sussex Partnership, we have highlighted 70 stories which showcase the breadth, depth and diversity of experience across our clinical and non-clinical workforce. Reading these stories, I feel moved, humbled and inspired. They embody the true spirit of the NHS.
Which brings me to another reason for celebrating the NHS at 70. We simply can’t afford to take our health service, or the people who work within it, for granted. If we want to recruit and retain high-quality staff, we need to keep reminding people what makes the NHS so precious. We also need to promote the opportunities it provides for a rewarding, stimulating, enriching career in service to others.
There are no better ambassadors for this than our own staff. We recently launched a film about nursing at Sussex Partnership as part of our #notjustajob recruitment campaign. Hearing from our nurses about why they love what they do is the best possible advert I can think of to come and work in the NHS.
We need to cherish our nursing staff, as well as all the other professional groups involved in delivering services. And we need to let them know they are cherished.
Our NHS isn’t perfect by any means. Money is tight, public expectations are (quite rightly) high and we don’t always get things right. We need to truly embrace learning and improvement methodologies across the health and social care system to consistently provide patients and their families with outstanding care and treatment they can be confident in.
We can only do this by fostering a supportive, just culture of appreciation, respect and equality that encourages and enables our staff to flourish. And that’s why it’s really worth celebrating everything that makes our NHS special: the people within it.
For more information about the NHS’s 70th birthday, including how you can get involved, visit: www.nhs70.nhs.uk
Sam Allen is the chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Follow her and the trust on Twitter @samanthallen @withoutstigma. She is also chair of the Health and Care Women Leaders Network @hcwomenleaders
70 years of the NHS
Celebrate 70 years of the NHS at Confed18 in June, where the whole system will gather to look back at the achievements of the last seven decades.
Head to the NHS 70th Birthday Zone within the exhibition to learn more about NHS history and join us on the afternoon of 14 June for NHS7Tea.