Judging the NHS Parliamentary Awards

This is the third time I have helped to judge the annual NHS Parliamentary Awards. It always feels a privilege, a great window onto what’s going on in the NHS and an opportunity to be inspired afresh by the skill and commitment of many talented people – but this year it’s something else again. The depth and breadth of the great work going on in the NHS, as revealed by the nominations for these awards, absolutely blew my socks off. As a judge it made the job of choosing winners almost impossible. It’s a cliché to say ‘everyone’s a winner’, but this time it really is true.

After such a difficult two years this is a testament to the extraordinary contributions so many people are making day in, day out, to serve the public. There is a lot to worry about at the moment, given the pressures on all parts of the system and the shortage of staff, but reading these nominations gave me huge confidence for the future.

For me, the nominations also provided some important insights about where our health services are now and where they are heading. I was struck, for example, by the number of innovative approaches that had been tried out during the pandemic and that were now being embedded and rolled out further, having proved their worth. The stresses and demands of responding to COVID-19 had clearly provided a ‘burning platform’. The lessening of the usual procedural constraints had also perhaps freed up some teams to try new things. Not all of them will have worked but some clearly had. How we can make sure the ground remains fertile for new ideas needs serious thought.

I was also really interested to see a focus on reaching and helping groups who we know can often be left behind. There were, for example, several very interesting nominations concerning improving provision and access for learned disabled people, using approaches that had been tried out during the pandemic, especially in terms of vaccination, but which had potentially much wider relevance that is now being exploited.

For me at Age UK it was great to see the idea of doing more to support people with multiple long term conditions to live well at home coming through. If we’re to improve patient flow it is clearly essential that we develop a stronger array of community based services that work with primary care to delay or prevent admission, as well as continuing to do everything possible to speed up discharge. Virtual wards, hospital and home, anticipatory care programmes and the like should be championed and spread.

I also noticed that there were more nominations than before for initiatives in which charities and not for profits were fully part of multi-disciplinary teams and we need to see much more of this. I would say that, of course, but at a time when the NHS is under such pressure one of the very few assets that is not yet fully tapped in my view is the voluntary sector. During the pandemic the value of volunteering was finally appreciated – what a huge difference NHS Volunteer Responders made – but the voluntary sector more generally still has more to give, if the NHS can foster the conditions to allow it to do so. If not now, when?

It would be facile to suggest every cloud has a silver lining, but these Awards should give us huge hope. Congratulations to everyone, within the NHS and far beyond it, clinical and non-clinical staff alike, who feature this year. You should all be very proud.

Caroline is Age UK’s Charity Director and oversees all the charity’s influencing and marketing. She is a member of the NHS Assembly and was formerly a SRO for the Ageing Well strand of the NHS Long Term Plan. She is also co-chair of the Care and Support Alliance (70+ charities campaigning for decent social care for all who need it). She has been at Age UK for a decade after other roles in the voluntary sector, the LGA, and as a civil servant and adviser in Government and Opposition.