Back in 1948 nobody could have predicted the shape of the National Health Service today. Back then, in a country still feeling the effects of World War II, the practicalities of providing free healthcare to men, women and children across the board was not without opposition from the medical profession and politicians.
That radical idea, taken up by Winston Churchill in 1943, led to Britain becoming the first country in the world to make its health service available to everyone on the basis of citizenship, rather than payment, five years later.
It is a symbol of Britishness, evoking a depth of feeling no other public service can match, and was shown off to the world as the pride of Britain in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.
And now here we are, celebrating the NHS's 70th birthday. Today, people are living 13 years longer than in the late 1940s. There are more than five times more nurses than when the health service was founded, and doctor numbers have increased tenfold. GP services are accessible every day of the week. It's safe to say the health of the nation has improved immeasurably thanks to the NHS.
We are also seeing the highest-ever cancer survival rates. On my recent visit to Cancer Research UK, where I was briefed on the importance of early diagnosis and cancer screening in the fight to beat this disease, it highlighted the sad truth that not only are ethnic minorities more susceptible to certain types of cancers, but awareness of risks and symptoms is often lower.
It's therefore absolutely crucial we make it easier to detect and treat cancer, and this government is taking action on several fronts, including Theresa May announcing a £75 million investment plan into new prostate cancer research – a disease that affects double the number of black men compared with other ethnic groups. The NHS does not stand still, and is constantly looking for new ways to innovate and evolve to provide patients with the best possible care. We are determined that our NHS can provide what we most need: more time with our loved ones.
The NHS was founded on being "not only a full service, but a really human and personal service", and this still holds true today. We are blessed with world-class doctors, nurses and researchers who provide an outstanding service day in, day out, across the country. It is right that we recognise their enduring contribution to the quality of NHS care, and this government was able to award wage rises of at least 6.5 percent for more than 1 million NHS workers in England earlier this year.
The importance of the NHS to the nation is self-evident and, to mark its 70th birthday, Theresa May has announced an increase in the NHS budget by £20.5 billion a year, in real terms, over the next five years. This coincides with a ten-year plan to transport the health service into the future.
Happy Birthday NHS. Long may you continue your compassionate and comprehensive care of every citizen of the United Kingdom on the core principles set out 70 years ago; available to all regardless of wealth, meeting the needs of everyone, free at the point of delivery, and based on clinical need, not ability to pay.
This is a comment for The Voice newspaper written by Helen Grant MP within her role as Vice Chair (Communities) of the Conservative Party.
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