On 5th July 2018, we celebrate 70 years of the NHS. Executive Member for Community Services, Councillor Lian Pate, recalls some of her memories of the health service, and looks ahead to the future of care...
My gran, who now lives with me, worked in the NHS all her working life. She came to England at 16, to work at Victoria hospital. I grew up round the hospital as all my family worked there, so as a little girl I was in and out of the wards chatting to patients in a way that wouldn't be allowed today
My gran worked on the geriatric wards. There was one man called Tommy Heseltine who came to our house every day from the hospital. He had a learning disability and a stammer. In those days, the system stuck kids in institutions for things like that, so he'd lived in the hospital all his life. My gran made him a daily visitor to our house. He had a cuppa then went to the shop for my grandad's paper.
I still have a rabbit that an old lady on the ward said should be passed onto me when she died. The rabbit is called Rufus. Rufus had travelled the world with that lady who, in her youth, had been an international ballerina.
Things may be different now, but these memories tell me that the personal relationship between patients and those responsible for their care is tremendously important.
Over the last few years I've been working in GP surgeries supporting patients in using NHS Digital services such as Patient Access and NHSgo, so I am excited to hear that the government has unveiled a new NHS mobile app that will put patients in England in direct touch with their local health services.
The idea behind the app is that it will allow users to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and see their medical files held by the surgery. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt described the app as a "birthday present from the NHS to the British people", 70 years after it was founded.
As Executive Member for Community Services for Burnley Council, one of my duties is to work with the NHS on improving services in Burnley. Outside of the council, I run a community group that helps people improve their computer and online skills. I can see, then, that for lots of people the app could be convenient. It could also potentially save the NHS money. Research shows that only 30% of patients seeking help need a face-to-face appointment. If more patients are able to go online to access medical advice or to self-help, this might free up more GP time for those that really do need a face-to-face appointment.
At the council, we recognise the potential in improving online services to make reporting, booking, and paying for services easy, as well as making the service more efficient.
However, at the same time, we know that not everything can be done online and that not everyone has access to a smartphone. This is particularly true of the most vulnerable in society. I believe, then, that online apps will never replace the need for personal direct contact between patients and doctors in the NHS.
I'm forever indebted to the doctors and nurses of the NHS for the fantastic and fast treatment I had for a rare form of cancer, and to the brilliant dentist that found it. Without his care, I wouldn't be here today. I've always said I would like to track him down and say thank you. Maybe this is my chance. Online apps can’t replace all care, but thanks to Facebook and Twitter we can reach thousands of people. So perhaps that dentist will read this and get in touch!