NHS chief praises ‘constant compassion’ of staff throughout ‘unprecedented year’

The head of the NHS today thanked staff and volunteers working over Christmas to deliver care for millions of patients, and reflected on their achievements in 2023 during an “unprecedented year” of demand and industrial action.

In a personal video message, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard thanked staff for their continued hard work during “what is proving to be another challenging winter”, with many set to forgo time with their loved ones on Christmas Day to help the NHS serve around 100,000 Christmas dinners in hospital, dispatch around 20,000 ambulances and deliver around 1,500 babies.

With the latest period of industrial action by junior doctors finishing today at 7am (Saturday 23 December), the NHS chief praised the health service for its collective efforts to protect emergency and critical care and “ensure those needing life-saving care have received it” during over 45 days of strike action in 2023 – equivalent to one and a half full calendar months.

Reflecting on new innovations this year, Pritchard said staff had changed thousands more lives in 2023, including by rolling-out “life-changing” diabetes technology and offering thousands more women access to a proven risk-reducing drug to help prevent breast cancer.

She also said the health service had faced record levels of demand in 2023, which was a sign of “people doing the right thing and coming forward for care when they need it”, while highlighting significant milestones delivered by the NHS in its 75th year, including the launch of its first-ever Long Term Workforce Plan.

The plan, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put the NHS workforce on sustainable footing for future generations, sets out the path to double medical school training places to 15,000, increase GP training places by 50% to 6,000, and almost double the number of adult nurse training places by 2031.

Despite huge disruption from industrial action with over 1.13 million appointments needing to be rescheduled (up to 18 December 2023) and ongoing record levels of demand, NHS teams have continued to make significant progress towards recovering key services.

Recent monthly performance data showing the number of patients waiting for elective care in October was down to 6.44 million, and the waiting list for procedures and appointments down to 7.71 million (from 7.77 million in September), while more people than ever before have received potentially lifesaving checks for cancer over the last year.

Thanks to extensive winter plans and the NHS blueprint to recover urgent and emergency care, ambulance response times in November were also faster across all categories than in October, with the most serious call-outs (Category 1) almost 10 seconds faster (8:32) compared with 8:40 in October, and Category 2 almost three minutes faster at 38:30 (from 41:41 in October).

As ever, the NHS is encouraging people to come forward for care when they need it, despite the festive period and industrial action. People should continue to use services as they normally would when they need urgent medical help – using 999 and A&E in life threatening emergencies.

In a message to all staff, NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said: “I want to begin by thanking all our staff across the NHS this Christmas, who are once again working incredibly hard in what is proving to be another challenging winter.

“For many, Christmas is a time to spend with loved ones and enjoy some hard-earned rest ahead of the new year. In the NHS, this is rarely the case. On the 25 of December, NHS staff will be serving around 100,000 Christmas dinners in hospital, dispatching 20,000 ambulances and delivering 1,500 babies – just as they do every year.

“This year has been extraordinary for so many reasons, with the NHS reaching its 75th birthday and the launch of our first ever Long Term Workforce Plan.

“We have also seen an unprecedented year of industrial action, which has been incredibly challenging but we have done everything in our power to ensure those needing life-saving care have received it.

“This year NHS staff have changed thousands of lives by identifying and treating more people with HIV through opt-out testing. We are rolling out life-changing diabetes technology. And offering tens of thousands more women access to a proven risk-reducing drug to help prevent breast cancer. Innovations like these save and improve the lives of millions.

“We are also seeing a steady increase in demand – with colleagues in general practice, mental health, and urgent and emergency care seeing record numbers in the past 12 months.

“Much of this is driven by people doing the right thing, coming forward when they need care, and talking to their family doctors or nurses when they are worried about their health.

“While many things have changed over the last 75 years, the skill and compassion of NHS staff who care for our patients and their families has always remained constant. I continue to be incredibly proud to work in and for the NHS.

“Thank you and merry Christmas.”