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NHS core principles must be protected

When Labour health minister Aneurin Bevan launched the National Health Service on July 5, 1948, he was driven by a determination to transform the lives of millions of people for the better.

At the heart of the NHS were three core principles - that it met the needs of everyone, was free at the point of delivery and that it was based on clinical need, not ability to pay.

Seventy years on and the NHS is a powerful and lasting testament to Bevan's vision and to the reforming zeal of the post-war Labour government, led by Clement Attlee.

This government delivered change that made lives better and in the case of the NHS has undoubtedly contributed to saving countless lives.

Such is the monumental importance of the health service that any subsequent government that has tried to alter or dismantle it has met with robust resistance.

The 70th anniversary is a timely moment to reflect on the NHS, more properly known as Health and Social Care (HSC) in Northern Ireland.

There is no doubt the health service has evolved from 1948, which is inevitable given the advances in medical care and the changing demands of a growing and ageing population.

The cost has also spiralled with NHS England spending £2,200 per person a year, which is similar to Northern Ireland but unfortunately we are lagging behind in performance terms, with unacceptably long waiting lists for treatment.

Spending levels are one thing but making sure that money is being used as efficiently and effectively as possible is a major challenge in the north.

Successive reviews have recommended changing our approach, with less reliance on expensive acute hospitals and a better use of resources in primary care and in the community.

The core principles of the NHS must be protected in future decades but there also needs to be an acceptance that change will be needed as people live longer and place increased pressure on health services.

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