NHS at 70 - Brent’s leading physician celebrates its legacy
- Credit: NHS
What do the actor Gregory Peck, the Queen and a robot called Jeeves have in common?
They have all walked the squeaky clean corridors of Northwick Park hospital in Brent.
When Aneurin Bevan, the health secretary, launched the National Health Service 70 ago years today, it was the result of a hugely ambitious undertaking to make good, free healthcare available to all.
It’s certainly been a colourful seven decades for the NHS with many stand-out moments, from the introduction of the polio vaccine to the first ever kidney transplant in the UK.
Dr Charles Cayley, who works as a consultant in general medicine and elderly care at Central Middlesex Hospital in Park Royal and Northwick Park, recalls joining Middlesex back in 1976 at the age of 29.
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But what has changed since his first day on the job?
“Medical practice has changed enormously,” Dr Cayley told the Times.
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“There were no MRI scanners when I became a consultant – they made an enormous difference – and a lot of procedures were fairly amateur.
“We have also made progress in the early diagnosis of cancer – but we still have a long way to go.”
Both hospitals, together with St Mark’s and Ealing Hospital, are part of the London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, which treats more than a million patients a year.
After serving as medical director of the trust for more than four years, Dr Cayley has happily returned to the frontline of healthcare at Middlesex and says caring for acutely ill patients is his true calling.
“I have enjoyed most of it,” he said – which sounds like lukewarm praise until you remember how hard the job must become at times.
“It’s quite simply the best way of providing care to the population – whether people are rich or poor.”
Northwick Park, which was opened by the Queen in October 1970 (one of the attending dignitaries was a certain Margaret Thatcher, then secretary of state for education and science) has had some illustrious visitors over the years.
Senator Edward Kennedy paid a visit in 1971 as part of a fact-finding tour to draw up plans for a revised health plan in the United States. Princess Diana also visited in 1997.
But it’s not only doctors and nurses who are making a difference in Northwick Park.
Three of the most unusual employees on the hospital payroll have been a harrier hawk, a guard dog and Jeeves the Robot, who was employed for a short time to deliver files and medical samples in the late 1990s.
The hospitals themselves have served beyond their original call of duty.
They have been popular locations with filmmakers for decades and the backdrop for a number of award-winning films.
The antichrist dropped into Northwick Park in The Omen (starring Gregory Peck) while the hospital also made an appearance in The Sweeney, a popular 1970s police drama starring John Thaw in his pre-Inspector Morse days.
All in all, it’s been an eventful 70 years. But what’s in store for the next seven decades?
Dr Cayley is feeling positive: “The dissemination of knowledge has become much easier.
“I think that the public will be more informed and people will have a better idea of what their symptoms mean.”
But challenges remain.
“It is said that 13 per cent of the health budget is spent on people’s last years,” said Dr Cayley, “and many patients stay in hospital because there is not enough social-care provision.
“But I think we’ll find a way of keeping going, even if it will be tough.”
And as the NHS – and Brent’s hospitals – have worked hard to keep us healthy and increased our life expectancy it’s likely they will continue to do so, he believes.
“I think in general, the NHS will help overall life expectancy to increase – genetics show that we have the capability to live to 125 so perhaps we will!”
To celebrathe the NHS at 70, Northwick Park Hospital will hold an open day on Sunday, where you can tour an operating theatre and learn the basics of life support and enter a bed-making competition.