The NHS at 73

5 July 2021 marks the 73nd anniversary of the NHS. Over the past year, NHS staff have continued to care for thousands of patients suffering from Covid-19 as well as delivered the largest vaccination programme in history. This year many ‘Thank You’ events are taking place across the UK as we slowly come out of lockdown. Her Majesty The Queen has awarded the George Cross to the National Health Services of the United Kingdom in recognition of 73 years of dedicated service by NHS staff and their courage in responding to the pandemic.

 

It is important to acknowledge that the extraordinary contributions of NHS staff have not been made without cost. Many staff have suffered illness and the deaths of family members and colleagues during the pandemic. Work has been enormously challenging with long shifts, limited resources, and uncertainties about the longer-term impacts on the NHS such as growing waiting lists and unmet needs.

As well as thanking NHS staff, it will also be important that they are supported and encouraged to reflect on their experiences. The 73rd anniversary gives us all an opportunity to take a moment to think about the place of the NHS in our everyday lives and the ways in which Covid-19 is shaping that relationship.

 

illustration of heart shape using dots

I think people sort of noticed that when things go wrong it’s hospital workers that still have to keep going into work every day and no matter what happens. And that will be the same in any disaster and in any crisis, you know?

Adam Middleton, NHS Porter, Ulster.

Since March 2020 NHS Voices of Covid-19 has been recording interviews with patients, staff and people across the UK about experiences of Covid-19 and its impacts on our lives and communities.

More than 600 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 73rd anniversary of the NHS, we have curated a selection of voices from our archive in which our narrators describe their experiences of Covid-19, and the ways in which their thoughts about the NHS have changed through the pandemic.

 

Image of hands cupped

I thought I knew all about the NHS, having worked in it for 30 years, but [covid] really has changed everything.

Rupert Pearse, Professor of Intensive Care Medicine, London

Rupert Pearse is a Professor of Intensive Care Medicine at Queen Mary University of London. During Covid he was been working clinically at the Royal London Hospital, where he describes the transformation of the Intensive Care Unit from a 30 bedded-unit to one that coped with 156 patients during the first wave of the pandemic in April 2020.

Rupert reflects emotionally on the impact the pandemic has had on NHS staff, describing a 'rekindling of vocation', and an increased sense of 'mutual respect' and kindness amongst staff. Yet despite these silver linings, Rupert speaks also about the 'moral distress' and the personal risk experienced by staff  - themes which emerge throughout our interviews.

 

Fitting for PPE

Listen to Rupert discuss how he feels there is no limit to how far NHS staff have been prepared to go and how this became increasingly apparent during Covid-19.

Click here for audio transcript

 

 

Adam Middleton is a porter at Ulster Hospital, Dundonald, Northern Ireland. Following the start of the pandemic he took on the role full-time and has been working on the Covid-19 team, transporting Covid-19 patients within the hospital.

In his interview he talks about the difficulties of wearing PPE, the increased camaraderie the crisis has brought to the hospital, and the increased public visibility of all healthcare staff.

Adam has also been documenting the pandemic through photography to capture this extraordinary period.

 

Image of hospital cleaner holding mop in PPE

Credit: Tom Warburton

Listen to Adam discuss the sense of camaraderie with colleagues during Covid-19 and feeling that they were all in the same boat.

Click here for audio transcript

 

Ami Jones is Intensive Care Consultant and works at The Grange University Hospital which is a newly-opened critical care centre in Gwent, South Wales.

Ami, who is also an army reservist, toured Afghanistan as a medical officer in 2011/2012 and describes the military hospital there as 'the best trauma hospital in world'. She reflects that though she used to think of the NHS as 'flaky' in comparison to the military, she believes it has risen to the challenge through Covid-19 and hopes that lessons are learned.

In her interview Ami reflects on her personal experiences of balancing family life as a mother of two young children and also her coping mechanisms for working in ICU during Covid-19.

 

 

Nurse/ Dr in PPE

Listen to Ami talk about going into the ‘hurt locker’ to have difficult conversations with families. She reflects that as a clinician, she has to pick herself up afterwards to go and care for the next group of  patients.

 

Click here for audio transcript

So when the pandemic started, I kept thinking back to these people that would be in the intensive care unit, which would probably be hit the hardest. And these people had faces, they had names... I just kept thinking, I wonder if they’re going to be ok

Claire Goodwin-Fee, Psychotherapist and founder of Frontline-19

Claire Goodwin-Fee is a psychotherapist and the co-founder of Frontline-19, a free, independent, confidential and UK based nationwide service delivering psychological support to people working on the frontline. Frontline-19 was founded in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the overwhelming demand for their services has been evident from its inception. When the website initially launched, it was getting an average of 25,000 views per day and in January 2021 alone they helped over 1000 people. 

Claire reflects that ‘the biggest part of the inspiration’ for setting up the service was based on her experience of her dad being cared for a few years earlier whilst in ICU with encephalitis. She was determined to support the staff who were caring for people like her dad.

Click here to find out more about Frontline-19 and the free support services they provide.

 

tired looking nurse in PPE

Listen to Claire reflect on the traumatic experiences of NHS staff that she has worked with through Frontline-19. 

Click here for audio transcript

Dominica Chamberlain is a consultant psychologist currently working within the NHS in acute services. In her interview Dominica reflects how Covid-19 created more empathy between staff and service users as it was a shared experience. She describes her own daughter’s fear of her mum going to work when government were advising staying at home. 

Dominica, like Claire Goodwin-Fee and many staff working or volunteering in the NHS, is thankful for the care she received when she had cancer ten years earlier and feels now that she is 'giving back' to the NHS. 

 

 

Return to previous page.

Listen to Dominica discuss why she wants to 'give back' to the NHS.

Click here for audio transcript

The NHS has always known that there is inequality of outcome within the services that it offers... And when governments say the pandemic has shone a light on something I don’t accept that, I think that actually we’ve always known it’s there.

Patricia Millar, Chief Executive, Dorset County Hospital

Patricia Millar is the chief executive of Dorset County Hospital and was off work receiving treatment for cancer at the beginning of the pandemic. She describes now how the care and well-being of her workforce are a primary concern and the responsibility she feels to them. Patricia, originally from Bolton, describes her parents as being of the Windrush generation. In her interview Patricia speaks about health inequalities in the NHS and the disproportionate impact Covid-19 has had on communities because of this. 

 

Listen to Patricia discuss inequalities in healthcare.

Click here for audio transcript

Helen Barlow is deputy director of nursing for the Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership. Helen was interviewed about her NHS and Covid-19 experiences for the project after one of our team members had met her whilst having their Covid-19 vaccine. Helen is one of many staff in the NHS who have volunteered their time, or come back from retirement to be part of the vaccination programme. Helen describes her motivations for volunteering as 'just wanting to help'  because Covid-19 was like nothing she had seen before.

 

 

Image of NHS vaccination centre

Listen to Helen talk about her motivations for being a volunteer vaccinator here. 

Click here for audio transcript. 

 

Dino Williams is Staff Side Chair at Guy’s and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust. He began work in the Trust as an assistant technical officer in the pharmacy department when he was 20 years old. Dino has won a number of awards during his career, and in 2014 was named as a Health Service Journal BME [Black and Minority Ethnic] Pioneer.  In his interview Dino discusses the challenges of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and describes some of the workplace changes that have resulted from it - noting how Covid-19 has 'really brought us forward generations' in focusing more on people than on the service.

 

healthcare workers portesting

Listen to Dino reflect on an important shift within the NHS from thinking of people rather than services.

Click here for audio transcript. 

 

Roy Robertson is a GP based in Edinburgh and describes in his interview how Covid-19 has impacted on his working life. He and his team have continued to serve their patients throughout the pandemic through both remote and face-to-face consultations. Roy draws parallels to his experience of working as a GP during the early years of the HIV crisis of the 1980s, reflecting how the experience of Covid-19 felt quite familiar to him.

 

 

Image of hand holding pills

Listen to Roy discuss the similarities in experience of working as a GP during both the early HIV crisis in Edinburgh and Covid-19.

 

 

Based at The University of Manchester, NHS Voices of Covid-19 is a UK wide research programme developing a national collection of personal testimonies around Covid-19 funded by the AHRC through the UKRI Covid-19 urgency fund and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

These testimonies will be preserved at the British Library as a permanent public resource for informing policy and practice.

This builds on the NHS at 70 project which collected upwards of 1000 interviews between October 2017 and March 2020.Since March 2020 we have recorded an additional 900 interviews focusing on their experiences of Covid-19 and the NHS.

Our collection is inclusive of patients, staff, policymakers and the public - it represents the place of the NHS in everyday life and work in the UK.

Thank you to all our volunteers, stakeholders and interviewees who generously contribute their time and experiences to make our work possible.