"Happy Birthday NHS" - And So Say All Of Us!

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Tuesday 5th July marks 57th anniversary of the introduction of the National Health Service in the UK.

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Tuesday 5th July marks the 57th anniversary of the introduction of the NHS. NHS Careers is taking this opportunity to celebrate the often pioneering, and always dedicated, work of NHS staff over the course of over half a century.

It's hard to believe that free access to healthcare came about so recently. The arrival of the NHS made a huge difference to people's lives at a difficult time in the history of the UK - post-war Britain was still experiencing food rationing and there were enormous differences in the healthcare available to different sectors of the population, among a plethora of other economic problems.

In its fifty-seven year history, the NHS has undergone dramatic change. The modernisation of the NHS has been rapid, and our expectations of healthcare delivery are high. The NHS now employs around 1.3 million people in England, taking care of patients, clients and their families and careers in hospitals and out in the community.

As Steve Barnett, Director of NHS Employers, explains, "Tuesday 5th July is, more than anything, a celebration of one of the most varied and multi-talented teams of people in the world.

"While a healthy NHS relies on many factors, the greatest benefit to patient care comes from those who work within the NHS - doctors, nurses, midwives, the healthcare scientists and therapists, those who look after the maintenance of the buildings, the administrative staff, those involved in research, and the people who are involved in the technology are essential to the running of such an organisation. The NHS Careers response line (0845 60 60 655) and website is busier than ever and recently received its one millionth contact.

"As a result, recruitment and retention of staff are key priorities for the NHS - locally and nationally. Today, the NHS is a modern employer offering important benefits such as flexible and family-friendly working practices, childcare facilities, housing initiatives, the NHS Pension, as well as on-going life long learning for staff. "

A recent poll of graduates by totaljobs.com to find the top ten most popular graduate employers, put the NHS as the third most popular, while the NHS is the largest employer in Europe and the third largest employer in the world. Recruitment initiatives are clearly paying dividends!

So Tuesday 5th July is a great opportunity for everyone to thank all the1.3 million people who work within the NHS, and to celebrate the contributions made by NHS employees past and present to the healthcare we all now have access to.


Steve Barnett, Director of NHS Employers

Alan Simmons, Senior Careers Advisor, NHS Careers

Bobbie Lawrence, Frieda Bonner, or Tina and Claire Thompson (see case studies below)

A member of staff from your local NHS. For example: long service, recently appointed/qualified, or currently training/apprentice/cadet


Example case studies:

Bobbie Lawrence, Manager, Telecommunications, Guys and St Thomas's NHS Trust, London

""I have been here for 23 years which is a long time and I have done most of the jobs - days, nights, major incidents and so on.

"I left school at 15 and was desperate to be a telephonist. I started work here when I was 17 and was thrilled to be offered the job. I thought they employed me because of my communication skills but found out after starting that I was chosen because I lived across the road!

"I left after a year to get married and have children but came back in 1983 when I had two young children - I was working as a night telephonist, which suited me well but I went back to days when they got older.

"In 1992 I took over as manager and a year later St Thomas' merged with Guy's to become one trust. Combining the two switchboard systems of two large hospitals was complicated and became a bit of a nightmare but we managed it and the system now is extremely efficient.

"Before we became one trust we had a microphone tannoy system so we could make announcements and contact individual doctors but technology has moved on so quickly. The whole Trust has also got a lot bigger. When I started we only had 4 telephonists and no computers but we now have 25 and an extremely high-tech computerised switchboard.

"The whole telecommunications department is also much busier now. We do a lot more and we are not just a call centre but a recruitment centre too. In 1987 we had 800 extensions but now we have 8,500!

"We do get some odd calls particularly at night - there are a lot of lonely people out there who just want to ring for a chat.

"One of my busiest days was the day of the hurricane in 1987 when only two of us managed to get in. We were bombarded by staff and patients trying to get through to tell us that they couldn't' get to work or appointments. It was chaos all morning but we coped.

"The NHS is a fantastic employer and helps people progress. There are a lot of other employers where I would not have been able to become a senior manager because I didn't go to university."

Mother and daughter, Tina (43) and Claire (18) Thompson

Sunderland Teaching Primary Care Trust

Tina started working for Sunderland Teaching Primary Care Trust in 1989 as an auxiliary nurse in the community. She then moved to the NHS Hospice. Then offered chance to be seconded to do nurse training while Trust continue to pay wages. She's doing a three year course on a new scheme - the Accreditation of Work Based Learning where the Trust and the University work together. She did her first year of training at the Hospice while studying part time, and is now full time at Northumbria University for the next two years. She has a contract with the Trust to return to work for them for two years after she qualifies. She found the first year hard work - full time auxiliary, part time student, mother and housewife! Very excited about the opportunities and she's guaranteed a job at the end.

Claire left school with GCSEs, but without sufficient grades to study for nursing, so she applied to be a Nurse Cadet. She has a five year contract with the Trust - 2 years working for the Trust, then 2 years at university, then one year as a qualified nurse at the Trust. She will also study at Northumbria University.

Tina says it's a fight for the computer at home as her son is also studying to be a civil engineer. She's delighted that both her children will have good careers, and is really excited to be furthering her own career at this stage in her life.

Frieda Bonner, Call Centre Operator, Guys' and St Thomas's NHS Trust, London

In the 1970's, the switchboard was situated in the East Wing Basement, just along from the mortuary. There was a ghost, 'the Grey Lady', that at least one of the ladies had seen walking along the corridor.

The Pater Nosta lift with no doors just went constantly up and over and back down the other side, which we always meant to try, but never did in case we got squashed at the top!

At that time, we had no computers so all our information was kept in small flip files on each switchboard that we updated ourselves. For emergencies or crash calls, we had a large free-standing chrome microphone with a red button to put out the calls to emergency staff.

The Thames Barrier had not been built at that time and one Spring, the Thames was expected to flood. We asked the Duty Officer what we should do as we were in the basement. He said, "Bring your Wellington boots with you and stay at the switchboard. Don't leave your posts"!



Website and phone service: NHS Careers was launched in 1999 to provide information to people of all ages and qualifications looking for a career in the health service. It is also a useful resource for education providers at all levels. NHS Careers recently received its one millionth contact (not including user sessions and hits to the website)!

Workforce figures

To meet today's demands on the NHS, the number of NHS hospital staff has increased dramatically. In 1951 there were 15,000 NHS hospital doctors; by 2000 this figure had grown to 73,000. The number of NHS hospital nurses has more than doubled from 189,000 in 1951 to 432,000 in 2000, and the number of paramedics and technical hospital staff has grown from 14,000 to a 137,000 in the same period. In general practice the changes have been less dramatic, but the number of GPs increased by 2/3rds between 1951 and 2001, and the population per GP declined from 2,500 to 1,700.

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Beverley Bailey
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