Mike Adamson is chief executive of the British Red Cross
As the NHS turns 70, over the next month a lot of people will be talking about its health, now and for the future.
There will be calls for sweeping changes.
Some will gaze into a future of technology and innovation. Others will say we should get back to basics.
But really, it’s much more complicated than that.
Of course it is. Even when we celebrated the birth of the NHS in 1948, the Minister of Health Aneurin Bevan at the time sounded a note of caution.
He warned that there would be “no miraculous removal of our more serious shortages of nurses and others and of modern re-planned buildings and equipment…”
These words of seven decades past have a very modern ring.
Our history in health and care
The British Red Cross has a long and proud history with the health and care sector.
We’ve worked in this area since we were founded in 1870.
We started loaning wheelchairs and health aids in 1919 and helped set up the UK’s first blood collection service in 1921.
We launched a five-year plan to help while the NHS was set up. And we continue to support people both in and outside hospital.
Birthday presents: our suggestions
We work alongside our NHS colleagues and help people who need their services.
This gives us a pretty good idea for some appropriate birthday presents for the NHS.
And as with all the best presents, it’s not about getting something flashy. It’s the useful, thoughtful gifts that count.
1) Focus on what matters to people.
Let people set out what matters to them and what they would like to be able to do.
Then ensure that every professional in every stage of health and social care services shares these goals.
They may be simple – even the confidence to get on a bus or to feel safe at home matters.
Build on people’s strengths and hopes as well as caring for their health.
2) Keep people out of hospital unless they absolutely have to be there.
Helping people to stay at home would be one of the greatest presents for everyone. It would also help hospitals manage better when patients really do need to be there.
Investment is needed in staff and volunteers at every stage. This ranges from the community to the GP surgery, and from the A&E department to the hospital ward.
When services work together, we can help people avoid going to hospital in the first place. Or we can help them to go home after A&E treatment rather than have to be admitted.
3) Get people out of hospital when they’re ready.
No one wants to be seen as a ‘bed-blocker’.
NHS staff are dealing with unprecedented levels of pressure on wards, especially in winter.
When they have to take measures such as cancelling operations, it’s hugely stressful for everyone.
Simple steps can make a huge difference. That’s things like transport home for people who need help and some basic assistance to settle people back in.
And when people are waiting for care packages, getting them up and moving to avoid ‘PJ paralysis’ can prevent delays.
4) Prevent people going in and out of hospital.
In just five years, the number of people who have to go back to hospital within two days has risen by 22.8 per cent.
This now accounts for one in five of all emergency readmissions.
This should tell us that something in those people’s homes needs attention.
When anyone comes in and out of hospital several times within a few months, their home should be assessed to make sure it’s suitable and safe.
We are calling for the government to fund schemes to prevent falls. This will help people to get the simple home adaptations and mobility aids they need.
5) Create a proper partnership with social care.
Health and social care are not two different things.
Both deserve enough funding and one should not be picking up the pieces due to lack of the other.
The NHS should not be patching people up to send them back to over-stretched, under-funded, under-valued care services. And social care should not be ignored when it reaches breaking point.
Both services matter. People matter.
We need to see people as whole human beings and make sure they get what’s required both in hospital and at home.
When we truly focus our care on the person in need, that will be the best present to our NHS and to ourselves.