NHS at 70: 'a great British achievement' says PM as veteran nurse runs NHS twitter account

@NHS Twitter account is being run for the day by 87-year-old Ethel Armstrong, who was working in the NHS on its first day

As part of the celebrations, the @NHS Twitter account is being run for the day by 87-year-old former nurse cadet Ethel Armstrong, who was working in the NHS on its first day

Caption: Ethel Armstrong. Picture: Joel Goodman/LNP/REX/Shutterstock

The prime minister has conceded that workforce levels can leave healthcare staff 'frustrated' as she praised their dedication on the NHS's 70th birthday.

Theresa May cited the recent relaxation of foreign worker rules, designed to ease pressure on medical staff, as she hosted NHS workers at a Downing Street reception last night on the eve of the health service's anniversary.

She told them the NHS was 'a great British achievement' but needed to undergo changes to deal with new problems linked to an ageing population and childhood obesity, plus greater focus on mental health.

Work/life balance and flexibility

In her speech, Ms May addressed the cap on foreign doctors while talking about plans announced last month for a five-year funding deal, which means the NHS will receive an additional £20 billion a year in real-terms funding by 2024.

Discussing a ten-year plan to be drawn up by health service chiefs on how to best use the extra funding, the prime minister said: 'I know that your dedication to your work is total.

'But I also know that, sometimes, you can be frustrated by staff shortages, and that you rarely enjoy the flexibility or work/life balance that many people now take for granted.

'We have already removed the cap on the number of foreign doctors and nurses who can come here each year, to relieve some of the immediate pressure on staff numbers.

'The plan will go further, investing in the workforce and introducing modern working practices so the NHS is not just one of the biggest employers in the world, but also one of the best – managed in a way that works for patients and staff alike.'

Last month home secretary Sajid Javid announced that the limit on tier 2 visas for skilled workers from non-EU countries, imposed by Theresa May when she was in his role, was to be relaxed.

The visa limit has been set at 20,700 a year since 2011, with around 40% of places accounted for by the NHS.

Health service success is due to brilliant staff

Meanwhile, in a message filmed in an ambulance control room, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: 'Today we're marking the 70th birthday of the National Health Service.

'It's a time for celebration looking back over seven decades when we're all living a lot longer and healthier – more than ten years extra.

'We've seen amazing medical advances, whether it's organ transplantations or new cures for cancer or vaccines.

'But the reason why the health service does so well is frankly due to the brilliance of the staff.'

Buildings lit up in NHS blue

The day of celebration will see scores of buildings across the country – from the Eden Project in Cornwall to the Houses of Parliament, as well as the London Eye and Everton Football Club's Goodison Park – lit up in the NHS's trademark blue, in a nod to the much-loved service.

Thousands of NHS Big 7Tea events are taking place across England to thank staff and raise awareness of NHS charities, while services will take place at Westminster Abbey and York Minster to pay tribute to NHS staff and patients.

The @NHS Twitter account is being run for the day by Ethel Armstrong, an 87-year-old former nurse cadet and radiographer, who was working in the NHS on its first day and who has gone on to give it seven decades of service throughout her working life and into retirement.

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