You bet – A special NHS Valentines message from Roy Lilley

primary care training love is patient love is kind

It’s that time of the year… when a bunch of petrol station flowers triple in price and a box of chocolates with someone’s name on it is more expensive that Beluga.

The celebration of a saint that no one is really sure about.  There might be two St Valentines and I’m not at all sure if either of them are still in the Catholic Church’s labyrinthine calendar.

So what… it’s an excuse for a night out, or a night in…

Love is no bad thing.  Mind you it can be… a lot of crimes are committed in the name of love and plenty of wars fought for love of country or love of religion.

What is love? Corinthians has a compelling answer;

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast… it always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres.

If you wanted to drop out the word ‘love’ and drop in ‘NHS’, I guess that’s as good a mission statement as we could hope for.

People often say they ‘love‘ the NHS and I seem to recall a smug and smarmy politician once saying it was the ‘next best thing the nation had to a religion‘.

Can you ‘love’ the NHS.  Is it a religion?  My guess is, love and religion are belief structures and on that basis… well… maybe?

I’m just about old enough to remember what life was like in post-war Briton.  The nation had been shattered by the efforts of war.  Traumatised by bombs, bereavement and austerity.

It’s difficult to explain to a child why the sweet shop has no sweets and what they do have, you can’t buy without coupons.  

‘What’s a coupon, Mum?’

It was against that indelibly grey background the then, Labour government embarked upon the bravest peace-time policy imaginable.

Against the overwhelming opposition of the Medical establishment and the Conservatives who were against nationalising the infrastructure, the government did it and the NHS was born.

Born out of a belief that socialised medicine was the simplest way to collect taxes and pay for the care and wellbeing of an exhausted nation.

As we look and listen across the landscape of care there are new voices that talk about ‘sustainability’, the ‘impossibility of funding’ and the ‘burden‘ that healthcare is, on the nation.

Not much love, there…

The NHS must be transformed.  Transformed from what, to what.  

The NHS must change.  Changed from what, to what?

Transformed from a tax funded, equality based system, free at the point of use, open to us all… to what.

Changed from a system that syndicates the cost of our accidents, illnesses, birth and death… to what.

The NHS faces the same challenges today that it faced in July 1948.  Austerity and opposition.  Back then, the government had the courage to commit to a huge policy experiment and with the nation up to its armpits in debt, fund it.

Today, in the name of austerity, NHS funding has fallen back.  Since 1948 to 2010, annual uplift has been around the four percent mark.  The actual graph goes up and down like a fiddler’s elbow but, it’s about right.  From 2010 to 2020, we will be around 2%, about £20bn short.

With demand going up at just under 4% every year, no boffins are required to figure out the NHS is doing more than it is paid to do. 

The NHS is just like the petrol station flowers, the boxes of choc’s and pink cards with the poems of fidelity, if you want it, you have to pay.

If you love the idea of a simple, practical way to run a healthcare system, that works, you can love the NHS.  If you believe in society sharing its risks of heart attacks and getting run over by a bus, then for you, the NHS is a religion.

I believe in practical ways of sharing the best things the NHS has got.  I love the thought; ‘show people what good looks like and they’ll get on a do it, better’.  

Three years ago, on Valentine’s Day, we started the Academy of Fabulous Stuff.  Millions of page views later and thousands of people showing us what their good looks like, you’ve shared the belief, syndicated your best stuff and shown us what you love to do.

Love, religion? You bet!


Happy Birthday to the Academy, the Ambassadors, supporters and sponsors.  To everyone who shared our belief that the road to improvement is through sharing and to all of you who have loved doing things better and showing us how!

Thank you!


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Reproduced at by kind permission of Roy Lilley.