NHS 70th Birthday

What the NHS means to me

Today is the 70th birthday of the NHS. As an entrepreneur who still works within the NHS, and is actively engaged in its development, Proximie co-founder and surgeon Nadine Hachach-Haram, outlines what it means to her.

It is hard to imagine modern Britain without its National Health Service. Like tea and biscuits, the two just belong together.

As someone who spent time growing up in other parts of the world as well as the UK, I can tell you how universally admired the NHS is. As far as truly great British institutions go, it is right up there with the monarchy, parliamentary democracy and pound sterling in terms of international renown.

In that curiously British way, however, pride and admiration in our own achievements is never a straightforward thing. There is a lot of doom and gloom surrounding the financial sustainability of the NHS, a feeling that it has grown so big as to become unmanageable, and that its perennial funding deficits will inevitably lead to a slow winding down of the project with the creep of privatisation.

But that is for another time. As we mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the NHS in July 1948, now is an occasion to celebrate and reflect on the achievements of a remarkable social experiment.

There are hundreds of thousands of personal stories connected to the NHS, many no doubt more poignant than mine. But as an employee of one of the world’s largest organisations, and an admirer of what it stands for, I wanted to share my thoughts on a unique and admirable institution.

Inspirational values

I do, of course, have a vested interest in banging the drum for the NHS – I have been an NHS employee for most of the past decade, currently working as a plastic surgeon at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. It was a very conscious decision for me to work in the UK for the NHS because I believe so strongly in its founding principle – free access to healthcare for all.

That, indeed, was a value that inspired me to go into medicine in the first place.

My family is from the Lebanon, although I was born in San Diego, California. When I was still quite young, we moved back to Beirut and I spent most of my childhood and teenage years switching back and forth between there, San Diego and London.

Those were difficult times in the Lebanon, the civil war was raging and I witnessed a lot of suffering and violence. By the age of 14, I had made up my mind that I wanted to be a plastic surgeon because I wanted to do something to help those injured in the war who did not appear to have anyone to help them.

I started my studies in the US, but I moved to London again to complete my medical training. I did this with the goal of working for the NHS clearly in mind. It made perfect sense to me. I had gone into medicine because I believed in free, equal access to healthcare for all. What other healthcare system in the world practised that same philosophy?

A place of nurture, a place of pride

That belief in the fundamental democracy of healthcare has shaped my entire career. It is how I originally got interested in medical technology and ended up co-founding Proximie. The idea behind Proximie is to make it easier for people to access surgery as and when they need it, regardless of where they are. The value of having the right care ready and freely available at the point of access has been nurtured in me through working for the NHS.

The NHS has also been the driving force in my entrepreneurial ambitions in setting up and running Proximie. There is never any sense of conflict between my work as a surgeon and running my own business. In fact, the two have ended up coinciding with each other, as I now also have a role as a trustee on the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme.

The Clinical Entrepreneur Programme is part of a wider recognition across the NHS that, if it is to celebrate another 70 years, innovation will be key. Yes, it faces some considerable challenges and ongoing structural reform is inevitable and necessary if it is to improve efficiency and meet rising demand, but you could say the same about any large organisation.

What the NHS does have is talent – thousands and thousands of dedicated, conscientious, talented individuals who are committed to finding ways to help the organisation thrive. The Clinical Entrepreneur Programme is one way in which the NHS is looking to nurture that talent, by offering an alternative pathway to conventional medicine to creative young medical students and junior doctors.

Put simply, the programme aims to help young medical practitioners follow the kind of path I and many other doctors have – if you have an idea for something that would benefit and improve the delivery of healthcare, this is how to bring it to fruition and make it viable in a market context. The rationale is, instead of losing such young entrepreneurs to the private medical sector, who then sell back their innovations to the NHS in years to come, their ideas and ambitions can be nurtured within the organisation, to everyone’s mutual benefit.

I am extremely honoured to play a part in the programme, using my experiences to mentor young professionals and offer advice. By the same score, I am proud of all the work I have done as an NHS employee, and just to be a part of it.

I am proud that I work in a healthcare system where, if someone is referred to my clinic needing reconstructive plastic surgery, my team and I will help them – regardless of who they are, regardless of documentation or ability to pay. And I am especially proud of the fact that Proximie, the remote surgery solution that I helped to pioneer, is now being used in the NHS to improve access to surgery at local hospitals and reduce waiting times.

Reaching 70 is a fantastic achievement for the NHS and everyone who has had a role to play in it over the years. For the good of healthcare services the world over, I hope it continues its work long into the future, and that the model is copied across the globe.