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This is a guest blog.
Guest authors bring different perspectives and diverse voices to our blog. They do not always represent the views of The King’s Fund.


Growing up with the NHS: born on 5 July 1948


As part of our work on the NHS and the public, we’ll be publishing a series of blogs providing different perspectives on the relationship between the NHS and the public, and how it has changed over time. Who better to start with than the first person born into the NHS – Aneira Thomas.

My name is Aneira Thomas, and I was born at one minute past midnight on 5 July 1948 in a cottage hospital in a little corner of West Wales, Glannamman. That makes me the first baby to have been born into the NHS – something that I feel very proud of. As a young child, I didn't understand the significance of it, but by the time I got to school I was proud to tell people about my namesake: Aneurin Bevan, the great man who introduced the revolutionary NHS.

The NHS is a wonderful thing. Before the NHS, people died young because they couldn’t afford health care: only the privileged few could afford it. Bevan’s plan came from having watched this human suffering, and the equality of access it has provided is very important. The public has a role too though – we each have a responsibility to look after ourselves and lead healthier lives.

In my view, the NHS’s purpose in 2017 is the same as it was in 1948. But I’m concerned by some of the changes that have taken place during my lifetime, and the pressures the NHS is facing today.

One issue I’m worried about is funding. I think the NHS is underfunded and I’m worried about the impact of service closures and increased travel times on patients – I think that financial cutbacks are putting patients’ lives at risk. When Bevan set up the NHS, the plan was to help people live longer, healthier lives – I don’t understand why the government isn’t sticking to this plan, and ensuring the system continues to meet the needs of these people?

I also think there’s quite a lot of misuse in the NHS – some money is spent on the ‘wrong things’, for example, cosmetic treatments. The NHS was set up to save lives. Part of the problem is the public’s expectations of the NHS, which I think have increased in my lifetime. When we have an ailment we expect somebody to dish out a prescription, and we expect to be seen at a certain time. Our expectations are quite high, and I think a lot of people take the NHS for granted – but it's not a bottomless pit.

As a former nurse, I’m also worried about the changing role of frontline professionals and their relationship with the government. When I was a nurse we all had a role to play, but these days more and more is done by managers. Frontline NHS staff are the experts that make the system tick, but I don’t think the government listens to them. NHS staff do not get the accolades they deserve, and it’s galling to see health professionals having to challenge the establishment all the time – for example in relation to pay. I feel very cross about the government’s policy of capping doctors’ and nurses’ pay (and the pay of public sector workers more generally). I know they call it austerity, but, in my opinion, it's hardship. I feel like sending Mr Jeremy Hunt Aneurin Bevan's plan for the NHS to remind him what it is for.

I think that because of these issues, there’s a lot of despondency among health professionals, something which is definitely not good for patients. The government should be doing more to keep doctors and nurses in the UK; it’s crucial they don't go looking abroad to work when we desperately need them in this country.

When I think about these challenges, I’m fearful for the NHS over the next 70 years.

I think that, to a large extent, the solution is financial. Funding within the NHS – and across government more broadly – could be allocated more effectively. But I also think people would be willing to pay a bit more to protect the NHS. I know this might be difficult for some people – it will depend on their financial position – but I’m clear there should be no compromise on the range of services provided.

One of the most important changes I want to see is more education. Education is important in ensuring individuals take some responsibility for their own health – years ago nearly everybody smoked because they hadn’t been taught otherwise, but now we’re much more aware of the effect it can have on us. But I think schools should also teach young people about the role of the NHS and how we can make it better. This is particularly important given how expensive treatments and drugs are now, and because of rising expectations; the public should be more aware – they should have access to more information – so they understand what the NHS can provide, and what the implications of our expectations are.

I feel passionate about the preservation of this fantastic service, which provides support from the cradle to the grave, for every person in Great Britain. It means equality for all. As Aneurin Bevan said, ‘The National Health Service will stay as long as there are folk to fight for it.’ The NHS is our jewel in the crown, and it’s our duty to not let it slip away.