THE Christian basis of the National Health Service was celebrated on Thursday of last week during a service at Westminster Abbey, as buildings including York Minster were lit up in blue, the colour of the NHS, to mark the 70th anniversary of its creation.
During the service, attended by 2200 staff, the Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, quoted the Archbishop of Canterbury, who wrote in his book Reimagining Britain: Foundations for hope (Books, 16 March), that the NHS was “the most powerful and visible expression of our Christian heritage” because it “sprang out of a concern that the poor should be able to be treated as well as the rich”.
In his sermon, the Dean, the Very Revd John Hall, quoted Aneurin Bevan, the Minister for Health in Clement Attlee’s post-war government from 1945-51, and a founder of the NHS, who, in 1959, said: “I’m proud about the National Health Service. It’s a piece of real socialism; it’s a piece of real Christianity, too.”
At the Abbey, where Attlee is buried, the royal family was represented by the Countess of Wessex. The Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, represented the Government.
The Church of England’s lead bishop for health and social care, the Rt Revd James Newcome, praised the NHS and its staff. “The NHS is rated as one of the best health services in the world, and those of us who have received treatment over the years know of the marvellous service that is provided,” he said. “This is a day for celebration, but it also marks an opportunity to say ‘Thank you’ to the 1.4 million people who work so tirelessly for the NHS.”
Staff at Lichfield Cathedral gave out free tea and buns to all present and former NHS staff members, before prayers were offered for health-service employees during a special evensong.
The Dean, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, said: “Seventy years ago, after the devastation of war, Nye Bevan brought into being a health service that would provide cradle to grave care for every citizen of this country, irrespective of wealth or class.” Today, the Dean said, the NHS was “one of the few things people are willing to pay more taxes for”.
After thousands of tea parties, raising funds for NHS charities, were held up and down the country to mark the anniversary, a celebratory choral concert took place in York Minster, hosted by the singer Linda Nolan, who is undergoing NHS treatment for breast cancer.
During the concert, the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir performed its charity single “With a Little Help From my Friends”, originally by the Beatles.
More than 1000 NHS staff and patients attended the concert, including Eve Senior, aged 15, who survived the Manchester terrorism attack last year (News, 19 May 2017).
Miss Senior received a standing ovation after saying: “Before Manchester, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, but staying in hospital and seeing what the nurses do and how good they are — when I’m older, I want to be a nurse.”