Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland health boss upbeat about future as NHS marks 70 years

By Rebecca Black

The permanent secretary of Northern Ireland's Department of Health says he is "confident" about the future of the NHS here.

Richard Pengelly was speaking in a message to health workers yesterday to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the service.

July 5, 1948 was the first time anywhere in the world that completely free healthcare was made available on the basis of citizenship rather than the payment of fees or insurance.

There is currently no Health Minister here due to the ongoing suspension of the Assembly, and Mr Pengelly, who effectively heads the local NHS, said: "I remain confident about the future despite all the problems.

"With the transformation agenda we have a clear way forward with widespread support.

"That will mean providing more care in or close to people's homes, building up services at GP and community level. It will also involve pushing ahead with hospital reforms like the development of elective care centres - new stand-alone day surgery units.

"Transformation is not the answer to all our problems but without it, those problems will get much, much worse."

Celebration events took place across the UK yesterday to mark the anniversary, including services at Westminster Abbey and York Minster.

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt and visually impaired athlete Selina Litt, who has had 20 eye operations on the NHS, both gave readings at the service, which was also attended by the Countess of Wessex, former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth and Chancellor Philip Hammond.

Events were held at many major hospitals and treatment centres here. At the South West Acute Hospital in Fermanagh, patients got a surprise when country singer Nathan Carter called in.

Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody described how he was laughing with his dad, who is battling dementia, this week. "You saved my dad's life," he tweeted. "Hard to put into words what that means to me so I'll just say thank you... from the bottom of my heart thank you."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said her life had "quite literally" been saved since a cancer diagnosis five years ago.

"We all owe the NHS a huge debt of gratitude. We can repay it by fighting to maintain the service and supporting staff who make it work," she said.

And BBC broadcaster Stephen Nolan said: "When a superhero is born, they work for the NHS. What you do is incredible."

Belfast Telegraph

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