One issue that unites the nation where Brexit and so many others divide us is the NHS. As the service turns 70 on 5 July, many of us will reflect what it has done for us and where we would be without it. However, our individual commitment to the NHS is about to undergo an acid test as we face the prospect of higher taxes to fund at least some of the £20 billion extra in England that the Government recently pledged as a birthday present for the NHS.

Will the public be happy to contribute more to the public purse to keep the NHS afloat? Will this sum – a 3.4% annual increase – be enough to turn around the current crisis, when experts are saying that at least 4% is needed?
Many patients believe that contributing a little more every month to secure the NHS for future generations is a price worth paying but the Government will have to be careful not to hit the pockets of those already struggling. Coupled with this, we are still waiting for an announcement around adult social care that faces its own estimated funding gap of £2.3 billion by 2020. Without an adequate rescue package for this sector, patients will continue to be needlessly stranded in hospital beds, draining the NHS of its precious resources.

With the health service on its knees, why do so many of us still have unshakable faith in the NHS? Perhaps because despite overwhelming pressures and challenges around funding, workforce and access, patients still lie at the heart of our incredible system, although it may not always feel that way.

That is why the Health+Care Show, the UK’s largest annual gathering of NHS and adult social care professionals, is proud to be partnering with the Patients Association to celebrate the NHS’s 70th birthday at our conference in London on 27 and 28 June. Many of the issues that the Association campaigns on, including patient safety, integrated care and digital technology, are central to our conference agenda.

We all have incredible stories to share about the miracles the NHS has worked for us, alongside our inevitable gripes when we can’t get a GP appointment on a Monday morning. Take my young relative for example, whose seemingly innocuous ENT problem escalated over the course of a few terrifying days into a diagnosis of the rarest of rare sarcomas. Personalised drugs, surgery, proton therapy in the US and still the journey continues…her parents being guided every step of the way by the most incredible team of expert clinicians the NHS can offer. This is the NHS at its best and in recent months when I’ve waited hours to be seen in minor injuries or held on from position 15 in the call queue at my local surgery, I have reminded myself of this fact and felt immensely grateful.

But the NHS is in undeniable crisis and while it displays outstanding care in many areas, it is not equitable across conditions or geographies. The cracks in the system are there for all to see, manifested in chaotic scenes in A&E over winter and by the scandal of our woefully inadequate CAMHS provision.

The more I have spoken to NHS professionals in developing the programme for our forthcoming conference, the more I have come to appreciate the pressures faced by NHS professionals every day, and to realise the limitations to what the NHS can and cannot deliver within finite resources. We as patients need to collaborate with the NHS in making the tough but necessary choices around service change and to ensure that we are properly consulted. Talk of ‘service rationalisation and reconfiguration’ ring alarm bells and trigger NHS-bashing tabloid headlines but in a world where modern drugs and technologies mean that the NHS can deliver almost anything – we need to accept that it cannot afford to do everything.

The NHS is working to transform itself into a service that is fit for the future. It is joining up services between health and social care, improving care for patients with chronic disease and harnessing the power of new technologies – but there is still much to do. The Health+Care Show is all about sharing how the NHS is doing this in different parts of the country so that best practice can be spread.

But all this is not enough – far from enough – without our support as patients in taking more responsibility for our own health and wellbeing. We should not just be passive recipients of care when we get sick but proactive self-carers in sickness, and in health! New patient-focused healthcare technologies and apps, personalised health budgets and better access to patient education mean we are better equipped than ever before to do so. We are an ageing population and as the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’. While not all illness is preventable or even properly understood, we should welcome and embrace advice from healthcare professionals on diet and lifestyle to reduce our risk, for example, of heart attack or stroke.

All those aged between 40 and 74 are lucky to be offered a free health check on the NHS that will soon include advice on preventing dementia. Go out there and grab it with both hands, act on the advice and make your 70th birthday present to the NHS a pledge to yourself to keep as healthy as you possibly can for as long as possible. If we all do that we will increase the chances of there being an NHS to step in for us, our children and grandchildren in times of real medical crisis.

It’s not too late to join us at Health Plus Care – find out more about the programme and sign up here. You can also follow us on social media using the hashtag #HealthPlusCare.

Lisa Thomlinson
Programme Editor
Health+Care Show