To mark 70 years of the NHS, C4CC’s co-chair, Nigel Mathers, writes this blog post on why he owes so much to the NHS and what his hopes are for the future.
I owe so much to the NHS.
I had severe asthma as a child and without the NHS, back then in the early 1950s – in its infancy, it would have been very difficult to get a good quality of treatment.
After training at medical school, I spent my entire working life in general practice, a fulfilling and rewarding career.
And just last year it proved a life-saver after I suffered a major heart attack and collapsed in the street.
Fortunately, an ambulance crew arrived in only seven minutes and was able to resuscitate me at the roadside. I had just a five percent chance of survival and was rushed to the coronary care unit at our local hospital.
Thanks to the skill of the surgeons and the wonders of modern medical technology I pulled through and have made a great recovery with a good quality of life.
Of course, this is one of the major success stories of the NHS, survival rates from heart attacks, many forms of cancer, particularly breast cancer, and a host of other diseases have dramatically improved over the past 70 years.
Way back then, heart attack victims were prescribed prolonged bed rest, while my rehabilitation has been based around daily four to five mile walks – tough at first but necessary and now part of my daily routine.
So it is easy to see why I care so much about the service launched by good old Nye Bevan in 1948 and now having to adapt to the very different landscape of 21st Century Britain, with all the challenges that brings.
As a former Honorary Secretary of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and as co-chair of the Coalition for Collaborative Care (C4CC), I have been campaigning to bring about the changes to the health system that I believe can help it thrive for the next 70 years and beyond.
The NHS and social care services are currently under immense pressure through a combination of an ageing population and over 15 million people living with complex long-term conditions.
C4CC believes that the answer to easing these pressures, and providing people with the high-quality care and treatment they deserve, lies in our Three Cs – Better Conversations, Co-production, and Stronger Communities and happily there is now general consensus that this is the way forward. This personalisation of care has captured the zeitgeist – ‘spirit of our times’
As I look back on my career in general practice, which spanned over half of the 70 years since the NHS started, many of us were already using or beginning to harness these key principles in our daily work.
When I started as a GP, consultations with patients lasted the grand total of five minutes, the relationship was much more formal, with nobody calling me by my first name, and conversation and interaction was strictly limited, not least because of time.
In my inner-city practice, we tried hard to break down these artificial barriers by dressing informally, having soft furnishings in the rooms and never sitting directly behind a big desk when talking to people we adopted a conversational style across the side of a desk for consultations.
It was innovative at the time, but is now seen as best practice and of course consultations can now last up to 15 minutes, giving the opportunity to get to the root of a problem, which may not require costly medical intervention.
Co-production as a notion has also been around for a long time, it was just not called it.
In the 1980s we talked about a meeting of experts, with people experts on themselves and what might work best for them, and doctors the experts because of their medical training.
This evolved into RCGP best practice around shared decision-making, designed to encourage the patient to be an equal partner in their own care, the basic principle of what is now called co-production.
I’m particularly proud that C4CC has developed a model for co-production that seems to work and which has been adopted by our partner NHS England in its planning in this key area.
Finally, we have always relied on community and the voluntary services to address the unmet needs of our patients and sometimes [sadly] to fill the gaps in health and wellbeing provision for our communities.
My practice and many others were prescribing exercise in the 1980s, organising bi-weekly walks from our surgery for those we felt might benefit.
We now call this social prescribing and whether it is running, walking, joining other community groups or simply volunteering it has been found that these non-medical referrals can relieve the burden on the NHS and tackle issues such as loneliness and social isolation, themselves major causes of illness.
So while our Three Cs may not be new, I believe they really have captured the spirit of our times and as the NHS looks to the next 70 years will play an increasingly important role in policy direction and strategy.
It’s about changing the culture – about helping people to become active participants in their own care rather than passive recipients of that care – to encourage them to be far more involved in their own care and treatment.
The staggering pace of scientific development will, I believe help play a major part to facilitate this.
Wearable technology such as Fitbits and other devices allow people to monitor their fitness and general health.
There will be far greater interaction with people and health professionals through the Internet and advances in genetic technology [eg individually tailored drug treatments] are another area that has such tremendous possibilities for everyone.
Despite the current challenges, I believe we can look forward to the future with optimism.
I know C4CC and our partners in the coalition have a key role to play in shaping that future and to lead this social movement for change in the way that we work with people to improve their care and deliver better health outcomes for all – ‘personalised care’ for all – right across our NHS.
Nigel Mathers, Co-Chair of C4CC