"I hope that others feel a similar sense of pride when they see its logo and hear of its successes"LOUIS KNIGHT

I believe ferociously in the National Health Service. I remember my consternation at discovering that not all people have an NHS in their lives. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could be asked to pay for ailments that they didn’t sign up for in the first place. I realise now how privileged this position is.

As far back as I can recall, the NHS has been a part of the family. It is something very tangible to me. It is the eau de GP surgery on my mum’s clothes when she gets home from work, the Christmas Eve trips to the hospital to deliver (late) presents to colleagues, and the Blue Badge whipped out to get free parking in town. Indeed, it practically has its own place at the dinner table, as my parents have always used mealtimes as a chance to exchange tales of woe and dilemma after a day at the coalface. This has, at times, been the cause of great disgust: bodily functions and fine dining rarely go hand in hand.

Knowing my mother as a doctor meant that watching her undergo treatment for breast cancer in 2016 gave us as a family a whole new ‘patient’ perspective on the NHS and its greatness. The service scooped us up; her recovery was our only concern – we didn’t have to worry about the cost or quality of treatment, nor did we have to travel miles away from our home to find help. Disease and deprivation are relentless forces, but so is the NHS.

“Its people, however, are its most formidable weapon”

Despite watching both male and female relatives work within its forces, the NHS feels, to me, intensely maternal, a fact I didn’t realise until I tried to find a word to encompass my personal understanding of its nature. It is owed so much, yet receives so little thanks. Consistently underfunded and overworked, it is an unwavering presence. Lives begin and end within its embrace, yet it is unfaltering. It is calm, it is omnipotent, and it is all-encompassing. It is doing innumerable things at once, achieving miracles twenty-five hours a day, eight days a week, without congratulation (evidenced by the absence of a real pay rise for NHS nurses announced in the recent budget). I realise it may not always feel like this to those working within its ranks, but it is the greatest of role models. The NHS is our true matriarch.


Mountain View

Nineteen years apart: My mother and I

No matter how many hours my parents worked when I was child, I never once blamed them for their absence. I knew that what they were doing was real, worthy and extremely significant. Now I’m jealous that they have such purpose. I don’t know which ‘erectile dysfunction’ article on the table at breakfast it was specifically that managed to put me off once and for all, but I have ended up on a very different path to the one that leads to the NHS’ doors. However, I can’t imagine finding a career which will ever live up to the value of theirs.

I know the NHS as an institution isn’t perfect – but very little is. Its people, however, are its most formidable weapon. I wish others could see how my parents agonise over a decision that hasn’t satisfied them or how every Sunday morning, my mum sits scouring the pages of the BMJ (British Medical Journal = Bible) for the latest information, highlighter and Evernote in hand. The NHS grapples with enormous responsibility: this burden is neatly divided among its millions of workers, who come from every corner of the world. These people occupy an array of highly diverse roles, ranging from porter to doctor to cleaner to nurse, and tirelessly provide us with care.

“I can’t imagine finding a career which will ever live up to the value of theirs”

Enter Covid. Like many others, I didn’t take the virus seriously at first. It was only when my dad came to pick me up from Cambridge in March last year – about a year ago today – sans beard (which had to go as he couldn’t wear the most protective kind of mask with so much facial interference) that I first felt a sense of imminent doom. On the way home, he threw statistic after projection after percentage at me, only increasing the sense that we were hurtling towards disaster. A later conversation with my mum revealed that he’d been feeling sick at the thought of what happened in northern Italy happening in British hospitals. I imagine he wasn’t the only one. NHS workers carry this onus with them every day: they live, eat, breathe and sleep their NHS. They are their jobs – pandemic or no pandemic.

I fervently hope that something irrevocable has happened during the past year. I hope the clapping and the banging of pots and pans wasn’t just an excuse for a weekly trip out and a bit of noise to break the silence, but a recognition of the inimitable value of this institution we take wholly for granted. I hope that others feel a similar sense of pride when they see its logo and hear of its successes. I hope that more people have learnt to cherish and appreciate it. As an integral part of all our families, and especially mine, long may the NHS continue.