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Medicine and health care have to change, because they are dynamic. If we never changed, we would not be
delivering health care as it should be delivered. Peoples needs change and so does the science, so delivery should also change. In 1948, cataract operations meant a week of total immobility with the patients head supported by sandbags. Eye surgery is now over within 20 minutes, and most patients go home the same day. In 1958, hip replacements were still so unusual that the surgeon who invented them asked patients to agree to return them post mortem. The NHS now carries out more than 1,000 of those replacements every week. I remember my first time as a student nurse in theatre assisting with what was called the Charnley operation and seeing a hip removed. Seeing that patient free of pain was nothing short of a miracle.
Last year, staff at Harefield hospital grew a human heart valve from stem cells and this year, staff at Moorfields have already tested a revolutionary gene therapy for treatment of a type of inherited blindness, and patient choice has been extended on that to all NHS-approved hospital providers.
People are now living on average at least 10 years longer than in the past. Deaths from cancer and heart disease have fallen dramatically and Britain is one of the safest places in the world to give birth. As a former nurse, I know that dramatic improvements in the health service have not been easy to achieve, but I remember when money-collection buckets for equipment and for accident and emergency equipment were the norm. The friends of the hospital did not just provide some of the friendlier aspects of health care, such as art, music and the like; money was collected for big equipment, like scanners, and they were owned by the friends of the hospital and other charities, which performed much of the fundraising. That is no longer the case. We have first-class equipment in first-class buildings and we must always consider how we have to change and use the skills of the work force, in particular.
I want to pay tribute to the work force. Working for the health service is a huge commitment, and it is usually a huge commitment for the member of staffs family, too. The staff and volunteers, past and present, continually help to drive up standards and the quality of care for millions. I hope that the media recognises that this week. Yes, we sometimes get it wrong. The system can be inefficient and over-bureaucratic, but most of the time it is marvellous. The diamond is about the only stone that hardly has a flaw in it, but occasionally that will happen. The majority of the time, however, we have to stand up and be proud of the NHS.
We must be proud of the NHSs valuesuniversal, tax-funded and free at the point of need. They remain as fundamental to the NHS today as they were when it was launched back in 1948. Yesterday, we celebrated at Westminster Abbey. We went across the road to the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, where the amazing, wonderful world-class soprano, Lesley Garrett, sang The impossible dream to all those who attended the service. I do not intend to burst into song at this pointI know that I am disappointing Members by not doing so. She said, as Nye Bevan would have wanted, that to dream the impossible dream was what he and that Labour Government did. They fought the unbeatable foe and they won.
lift the shadow from millions of homes. It will keep very many people alive who might otherwise be dead. It will relieve suffering...It will be a great contribution towards the wellbeing of the common people of Great Britain.[ Official Report, 30 April 1946; Vol. 422, c. 63.]
No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.
I hope that we all continue in that spirit. The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central surrounds Trafford, where the first NHS hospital was established. The north-west region is right to be proud of what it does today. We dreamed the impossible dream. We fought the foe at different stages of that journey. We still have a few fights to go, but we will be as brave as the song says and as Aneurin Bevan wanted us to be. I am grateful for the opportunity for this debate.