Anniversaries provide an opportunity to look back and reflect, but also to look to the future. In this respect the celebration of 70 years of the NHS is no different.
The transformation of the education of healthcare professionals to degree level qualifications including evidence-based critical thinking, advanced clinical practice and academic scholarly research is one of the most significant changes in the NHS’ 70-year history. Along with the development of regulation and national standards it has strengthened the professional identity of healthcare professionals
Education has evolved from being focused on practical skills taught in a hospital to academic theory and practice taught in a multitude of settings and the use of technology has enabled blended methods of learning. Research and the discovery of new findings has enabled improvements in practice and degree education has offered the evidence to reduce harm to patients and promote good health and wellbeing.
At the same time, healthcare degree programmes have a proud record in widening participation and enabling students from different social and ethnic backgrounds to enter higher education. Mature students bring with them valuable experience, often as service users, and make up a significant proportion of the student body.
Today’s healthcare student has a myriad of future career possibilities. Their professions are no longer only about leading care in an acute setting. They are also about carrying out research that will transform lives, advocating for healthcare policy improvements, supporting families and carers, leading on charity work, directing care and managing large organisations in complex settings. As healthcare delivery is increasingly moving to e-health and digital services, there are already more opportunities for innovation in the way we deliver education in the future in an even more agile, global and transportable way.
The last 70 years have also brought significant changes in the focus of teaching healthcare as a treatment and cure of a disease in the narrowest of terms to moving steadily towards leading holistic care, promoting public health and prevention and proactively looking after the wellbeing of our population. With the rise in conditions such as diabetes and obesity and the impact of climate change, one can only predict that the education of now and the very near future will be even more about cross-disciplinary scholarly delivery, combining healthcare education with engineering, environmental studies, politics and digital technology. There is no doubt in our minds that a stronger focus on global and public health will undoubtedly be required as a pivotal part of our education programmes.
The history of healthcare professionals is intertwined with the history of their education. Whatever the challenges of the next 70 years, the education of our future health professionals will continue to equip them to provide the high quality of care for which the allied health, midwifery and nursing professions are renowned and respected.
As we celebrate the past 70 years of the NHS, let us use this as an opportunity to emphasise and raise our voices on the potential that education and research can have in shaping the next 70 years of health care across the UK and globally.
Professor Brian Webster-Henderson Professor Jan Draper
Chair, Council of Deans of Health Vice Chair, Council of Deans of Health