NHS at 72

5 July 2020 marks the 72nd anniversary of the NHS. Lighted candles will allow remembrance of those who have lost their lives to Covid-19. Clapping will express thanks to NHS staff. The anniversary offers a pause for reflection on what continues to be the most extraordinary moment in the NHS’ longer history although the challenges of the public health crisis remain.


Since 2017 NHS at 70 has recorded more than 800 interviews with people across the UK about experiences of health and the place of the NHS in everyday life and work. As Covid-19 began to impact our lives and communities in March, we suspended face-to-face interviews. But the realisation that we had a unique opportunity to capture the unfolding of this global pandemic, and enable our volunteer interviewers and interviewees to maintain social connections during this difficult time, led us to switch to telephone interviews.

The enthusiasm for this work from our volunteer interviewers and interviewees has been inspirational. Doing oral history during an ongoing health crisis without a defined end is uncharted territory. But those involved are convinced of its value at both a personal and broader social level (Click here to read our blog in the Oral History Review on this here).

Image of card in trees thankyou NHS

More than 200 interviewees to date have participated, some undertaking regular interviews. Through the voices of patients, policymakers, frontline NHS staff, young people and individuals with high-risk conditions, we are documenting how Covid-19 has affected and is continuing to affect all our lives, especially our experiences and thoughts about the NHS.

To mark the 72nd anniversary of the NHS, we have curated a selection of voices from our archive, in which the narrators describe their experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic and reflect on our broader relationship with this unique institution during these challenging times.


Professor Nick Hart, a leading respiratory physician who looked after the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, when he was admitted for Covid-19, was the first person from his family to go to University. He wanted to be a doctor from the age of 12, because, quite simply,  he wanted to help people. Nick  Talking about treating the Prime Minister, he said:  “I didn’t realise the importance of this until after the event, and that was probably a good thing. I was so focused that we were going to provide the best possible care for this patient as we had done for the 150 that had been admitted before him. Listen to Nick reflect on this here.



Natalie, is an electric wheelchair user, who is tube-fed and uses occasional oxygen after suffering a severe form of Guillian-Barre syndrome 18 years ago. She said: “The hospital said I needed a GP examination. Because I am shielded, I can’t go to the surgery so a GP came out in full PPE which was really strange. It was quite an intimate examination but I felt really safe. It was all very different but very efficient.” Listen here to Natalie talk about a routine visit from a nurse and her anxieties.


I was so focused that we were going to provide the best possible care for this patient as we had done for the 150 that had been admitted before him

Professor Nick Hart


Laura, who works for Addiction Services in NHS Ayreshire and Arran, reflects that although the situation has been horrible, none of us have had to consider the cost of Covid treatment for ourselves or loved ones as people in America have.



Samuel, who is from Nigeria and works as a team supervisor in administration at a large London hospital, speaks about his fear of contracting Covid-19 and the impact of this on his mental health.


So I do think the public have started to actually focus their thoughts about what it is, the NHS, and what does it mean to me? And in a way that’s kind of made them, I think, even fonder of it than they were before.


Sam, a F1 junior doctor in a Glasgow hospital, speaks about his views on the 'hero narrative' of NHS staff, and how he believes this perversely contributes to the impression that is okay for NHS workers to die.


Margaret, who has worked in various nursing and leadership roles throughout her career, and was hospitalised with Covid-19, reflects how the 'clap for carers' will have boosted NHS staff morale at a time when they most needed it.


The narrative that’s been created about NHS staff being heroes kind of just creates a narrative where it’s okay for NHS staff to die. In hero films, it’s okay for the hero to die as part of the greater good. I don’t think that’s fair.


David, an anaesthetist, who works in a large Scottish hospital, reflects on the difficulties of working in ICU during the Covid-19 pandemic.



Tristan, a consultant in HIV medicine, describes his time working at NHS Nightingale London, designed to support all London NHS hospitals in the event of a COVID-19 surge.


It is an incredibly well set up field hospital; it was a great privilege to be there. It was another one of those moments that’s happened in recent months, where you feel like you’ve walked into a movie.


Alexa, a FY1 doctor, who was working on an elderly care ward at the time of the interview, speaks about the impact of new working practices on patient care.



Sohail, who is the Chief Medical Officer for Manchester Local Care Authority and a GP, speaks about how a fear of the virus is deterring patients from accessing healthcare and how as a GP this feels like an odd moment in his career.


I just felt sad on the ward. I could just see people sat in their beds, lying, just knowing they hadn’t had a conversation with anyone all day.


Carol, who trained as a nurse and is now head of equality, diversity and human rights at a large hospital trust, reflects a heavy feeling on Windrush Day during the Covid-19, given the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had on BAME staff and communities.



Mike, a cancer patient and patient advocate in Manchester, reflects on his experience of grief and loss during lockdown.


These four walls haven’t changed; nothing inside my little bubble changed. It’s when we come out and we find people are missing. That’s when it’ll be difficult.


Jonathan, who was one of the first patients diagnosed in London with HIV during the 1980s, compares the Covid-19 pandemic with the HIV epidemic.



Trisha, who has been undergoing cancer treatment during Covid-19, reflects how the NHS has taken on even greater importance, adding how ‘right now I think of it as a friend’.


Some of the biggest moments of my life have taken place in hospitals in that respect. But because I’ve stayed healthy for most of my life, it’s not been at the forefront of my mind. But right now I think of it, it’s kind of like a friend.

NHS at 70 would like to thank all the interviewees and interviewers who have volunteered their time, experiences and support during this challenging period of NHS history.




Listen here to these three interviewees reflect on why they have contributed their NHS story to our national archive.