Northern Ireland

NHS at 70: Northern Ireland health officials mark landmark birthday

Crowds attending a rally in Belfast on Saturday celebrating 70 years of the NHS. Picture by Kevin Cooper
Crowds attending a rally in Belfast on Saturday celebrating 70 years of the NHS. Picture by Kevin Cooper

HEALTHCARE workers, campaigners and politicians have paid tribute to the NHS while also acknowledging the challenges ahead as it today celebrates its 70th birthday.

Events are due to be held across Northern Ireland and Britain to mark the National Health Service's seven decades in existence.

Among them is a reception to be held at Stormont hosted by the Northern Ireland Confederation of Health and Social Services.

The event will include a routine from a dance company, singing from a children's choir, and a large cake spelling out the letters 'NHS'.

Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said he is "immensely passionate and proud of our health service".

"It is rightly cherished by all of us in society who use it and work in it. Day and daily it touches and enhances people's lives," he said.

He said the last 70 years have brought great improvements in people's health and wellbeing, from vaccination programmes to better cancer survival rates.

But he said "there is no doubt however that challenges remain", adding: "We have to get to grips with unacceptable waiting times and mental health issues continue to challenge the service.

"The only answer is to transform the health service so that it is better able to respond to the issues of our time."

Charlotte McArdle, chief nursing officer, said the last 70 years have seen "significant developments in the nursing care of patients".

She thanked staff for the "tremendous contribution they make to people who use our services".

"Our focus on the future is to ensure that we will have a much healthier population, where nurses and midwives enable and support the population to look after their own health," she said.

Sean Holland, chief social worker, said: "As the health and social care system has grown and developed so too has the critical role social work and social care has played.

"As we mark this important milestone, it is only right that we pause to reflect on and recognise the dedication of the social workers who have helped tens of thousands of people every week in Northern Ireland."

He said there are "considerable challenges ahead" and "we must look at how to make the system work better".

Anne Speed, head of bargaining and representation at trade union Unison, said today is "first and foremost for celebrating", but added: "We all know the provision of health and social care is under growing pressure.

"We are convinced in our view that the universal health service, free at the point of need, taxation based and publicly provided, must continue.

"Our members are strong in their determination to work together and build secure foundations for the future."

DUP leader Arlene Foster described the NHS as "nothing short of a revolution in healthcare" that is "recognised and respected internationally".

But she added: "In my view, health transformation is the most important task facing a restored Northern Ireland government."

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann said: "The NHS is one the of the UK's most important and treasured institutions."

He added: "Whilst there is much to celebrate I am also acutely aware that the service locally has never before faced such a precarious future."