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NHS at 70 - Thoughts from our academics

Some of our academics, who work closely with the NHS, share their views about the importance of the NHS and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Professor Tim Elliott
Professor Tim Elliott

Professor Tim Elliott

Without doubt the greatest achievement of the NHS has been to stay true to Bevan’s original vision of providing world-class healthcare free at the point of delivery and according to clinical need and not the ability to pay. In my opinion, this is a sign of civilisation and something to be very proud of. I think that the system itself has helped to propagate the exceptionally high level of professionalism and competence that characterises the UK health profession.

The NHS has been under massive strain over the past decade or more, which has made it difficult to do much more than firefight. The pressure on resources will increase as our ageing population swells over the next 20 years and more and more people will be suffering from multiple chronic diseases at the same time. At the same time, because we have a single health service with all the tertiary hospitals linked closely to world-leading multidisciplinary research environments, in the form of University departments, via their medical schools, we in the UK are presented with a great opportunity to lead the way for healthcare in the future.

The recent Life Sciences Industrial Strategy report chaired by Professor Sir John Bell leaves us in no doubt that “better care [is achieved] through better adoption of innovative treatments and technologies”. In the next 20-30 years the NHS needs be at the centre of this revolution, with research and innovation as part of its core mission. It needs to “digitise” in a way that allows every patient that walks through the door to contribute to research; and this will have to go hand in hand with an understanding from the general public that their personal data are valuable and secure.

An NHS with research at its core will need to integrate social science, ethics and law into everything it does, as well as improve its clinical trials capabilities, if it is to make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead. This will involve a lot of partnering with industry, universities, charities and government to develop systems and technologies, attract and train talented people and implement the fruits of their research.

Professor Elliott is Professor of Experimental Oncology within Medicine at the University of Southampton and he is Director of our new Centre for Cancer Immunology.

Professor Iain Cameron
Professor Iain Cameron

Professor Iain Cameron

A key founding principle of the NHS was to provide care based on need and free at the point of delivery. The NHS was the first health system to make such care available for all. This was a tremendous achievement in itself, but it also paved the way to many significant advances in healthcare, such as tackling childhood infections through effective vaccination programmes and promoting the need for evidence-based practice.

Whilst the principle of access to care for all based on need still holds true, our remarkable health system faces significant challenges. An ageing population, with individuals often living with one or more long-term conditions that affect their health, and rising expectations, in part driven by significant medical advances, have led to unprecedented demand. This has been exacerbated by similar challenges in the social care system, and ever-increasing costs.

The NHS and its 1.5 million dedicated staff provide outstanding care in a range of settings and often under considerable pressure. But, despite current challenges, there are significant opportunities. Advances in the application of technology, particularly in engineering and computing, will revolutionise healthcare. A focus on early diagnosis and personalised medicine - tailoring treatment to individual situations - along with realistic attention to prevention and public health, will deliver more effective treatment. A cross-sector approach will be crucial, with strong links between health and well-supported social care and education systems.

We can be proud of the NHS and its achievements. Access to high quality healthcare based on need is a fundamental social good. Much has evolved since 1948, but further change will be required to address the health of the nation over the next decades. The NHS will need to continue to develop and to be properly resourced if it is to make the most of the opportunities in the life sciences and to maintain its founding principle. I’ve no doubt that the NHS is ready for the challenge. Here’s to the next 70 years!

Professor Iain Cameron is Dean of Medicine at the University of Southampton


NHS 70th Anniversary

We have been training nurses since 1957 and our medical school opened in 1971. As well as training the healthcare professionals of the future, our research is making UK healthcare more effective. Join us to explore our important relationship with the NHS as we celebrate their 70th anniversary.

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