Public Policy Projects joined the NHS 70th Anniversary celebrations by hosting health and care staff and others from the sector for an evening reception with Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of NHS Confederation. 

The event took place at the Institute of Engineering and Technology at Savoy Place in central London, giving over 200 attendees the opportunity to reflect on 70 years of the health service, while overlooking the Thames in the late July sunshine. 

Representatives from all corners of the NHS, social care, health policy groups and the private sector were in attendance to share in discussions about the past and look to the future of integration, AI and digital health.

However, the celebrations were not without a dose of reality as conversations touched upon the challenges presented by funding pressures, workforce struggles and the uncertainties of Brexit. 

Reflecting on the event, Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation said: “I am grateful to have been a part of an evening that celebrated the extraordinary efforts and achievements of all those who have worked in the NHS over the past 70 years to deliver outstanding healthcare services to the British people. 

“As well as celebrating what has already been achieved, we need to face up to the stark reality of an NHS that is under considerable pressure and look at how we move forward with addressing current and future challenges.

“The Prime Minister’s commitment to a long-term funding deal for health and social care is extremely welcome. But the question still remains of how we use this money to find new and effective ways of delivering NHS services that don’t simply prop up the existing system, but seek to transform it into one fit for the challenges of the next 70 years.”

With the recent appointment of Matt Hancock as the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, there was a degree of cautious excitement about the possibility of a new agenda of innovation and digital health amongst delegates. 

Keith Strahan, a registered social worker and council member at the Faculty of Clinical Informatics who attended the event, said: “As a social worker, who has worked in many different hospital, mental health, community and primary care settings, I have been privileged to observe fantastic contributions by hardworking professionals from health and social care.

“It was a pleasure to attend the event, celebrate their achievements and hear about the support for a better, integrated system in the future.”

It has to be recognised that the last 70 years have not been without their challenges and struggles, and nor will the next 70. Achievements should be considered in reflection of the adversities of funding pressures, staff shortages and disconnected services. However, along with the £20bn-a-year funding boost announced by the Prime Minister, progress is being made by Simon Stevens and NHS England to deliver on the aims of the Five Year Forward View and Next Steps. 

These set out a plan to care for a growing and ageing population with increasing numbers of patients with multiple, complex conditions. In order to improve health outcomes, the NHS must continue with its agenda to focus on prevention schemes and mental health services while seeking to cut waiting times and delayed discharges. 

Where does integration fit into this? While it was not a point of focus on the evening, reforms to build on the 44 STP areas and develop Integrated Care Systems, Integrated Care Partnerships and even Accountable Care Organisations are continuing to dominate a lot of strategic discussions in England. The NHS has come so far, but to deal with growing, complex demands, it must adapt and manage resources more effectively.

Stephen Dorrell, Chairman of Public Policy Projects, said: “It is right that we should celebrate 70 years of the NHS. It is one of the success stories of modern Britain of which we all have good reason to be proud. But I welcome Niall Dickson’s tone of ‘celebration tempered with realism.’

“National institutions like the NHS only retain people’s trust and support when they deliver results. That means that if the NHS is going to celebrate another 70 years it will have to continue to change to meet the changing demands of future generations – just as it has changed in its first 70 years.

“Aneurin Bevan created the world’s first universal healthcare system, but he did not have the last word. None of us do; our world continues to change, and the NHS must change with it.”

Darktrace, the primary sponsors of the event and providers of AI cybersecurity services to numerous Trusts, is particularly engaged with ensuring there is no repeat of the WannaCry ransomware attack that took place last year, impacting healthcare providers across the country.

Public Policy Projects will be continuing its events series over the course of the year, focusing on leading discussions in the health and care space.