On 5th July 1948, the National Health Service launched in England and Wales.
As a country, we had been nudging towards the establishment of universal healthcare for decades. The first real step had been taken by David Lloyd George in 1911 with the passage of the National Insurance Act. The real conversations took place against the backdrop of the Second World War, culminating in 1944 with the publication of the White Paper by Henry Willink, the then Minister for Health. And when the war was over, it was the son of a Welsh coal miner who brought together the ideas of the last thirty years into a vision of a body that would provide healthcare to all, irrespective of their social class or employment status or origins, paid for by everyone as they were able and in return delivering healthcare free at the point of need.
That was 66 years ago tonight.
Tonight, I remember Nye Bevan whose dream became a life-saving reality.
I give thanks for my colleagues in the NHS and for those who went before us. I give thanks for the joy of spending my days in its service. I remember with gratitude and hope and sorrow and joy all those who have passed through the doors of my corner of the NHS, for lives lived and lives lost and lessons learned. I give thanks for my life, too, and for the lives of those whom I love. I pray that we will not be blinded to our faults and imperfections, or afraid to do better.
The future of the National Health Service has never been more uncertain. It has survived through economic crises and political “reform”, and yet the threats to it loom larger than ever before — all the larger for so often being insidious and only visible in the corner of our eye.
And with profound thanksgiving for all that it is and with fear for all that it must not be allowed to become, I remember these words from the revised Hippocratic Oath:
I will respect each of my roles, as expert, communicator, scholar, partner, manager, teacher, professional, and health advocate.
I recognise that I have responsibilities to humankind that transcend diktats and orders of States, and which no Legislature can countermand.
I will oppose health policies that breach internationally accepted standards of human rights.