Happy Birthday NHS

The National Health Service (NHS) is 75 years old today and this post is a celebration of the complicated, humane, and embracing service that’s looked after me for almost forty years. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without the NHS. It’s cared for me through so many challenging and frightening moments. It’s kept me safe and mobile when my body and brain seemed determined I should be on the ground. Its existence has meant I’ve never had to weigh up if I can afford to seek help or deal with insurance companies in order to receive care.

I’ve been supported by a wide range of specialist teams, some of which I imagine people wouldn’t even know exist, like the orthotics team who made custom boots and splints for me to prevent tics damaging my ankles. Or the special care dentists who look after my teeth with incredible skill and compassion – a potentially risky job because of my tics. And the wheelchair service team who test potential new products on my chairs because if they can withstand my super wobbly body they’ll probably withstand most things!

As a disabled person my experiences of the NHS isn’t always completely positive though. I’ve noticed that it’s in hospitals that my support workers are more likely to be spoken to, rather than to me. It’s also telling that Fat Sister, who’s an NHS doctor starts off appointments when she’s supporting me by describing my achievements (she doesn’t do this in any other setting) She does this to make sure her colleagues don’t make any assumptions about me just because I’m a noisy, wobbly wheelchair user. It’s because I love and believe in the NHS that I think it’s important to acknowledge the inequalities that exist within the system. Only if we’re open about these issues can they improve.

Over the last few months we’ve witnessed exactly how important a robust healthcare system is to every area of our lives. The safety net of the NHS has caught me and people I love on numerous occasions, and it’s essential that it’s valued and invested in as a whole.

For ten weeks in March, April and May people across the UK clapped for keyworkers every Thursday evening. Here at the castle we also played medically inspired reggae! After each clap I did a drawing that summed up our mood. To mark the 75th birthday of the NHS I’m sharing the resulting ten images.

Week 1
A digital drawing of a night scene in South London during the NHS clap at 8pm on 27th March 2020. Overlaying the scene is white joined up writing reciting Touretteshero's poem: 'While You Were Washing the Dishes'

Week 2
A digital drawing of a hazy evening scene in Peckham in South London during the second week of the NHS clap at 8pm during the coronavirus pandemic. Central to the image is Touretteshero’s home, the castle. Outside parked is the blue van with sky blue, white and blue racing stripes is the Touretteshero Van and various shops of Peckham such as JB Soul Food, Persepolis, the Library and Peckham Pulse gym and swimming pool. Overlaying the scene in large white joint writing that says “Hear our thanks”.

Week 3
A digital drawing of a bright evening scene in Peckham in South London during the third week of the NHS clap at 8pm during the coronavirus pandemic. Central to the image is Touretteshero’s home, the castle. Outside parked is the blue van with sky blue, white and blue racing stripes is the Touretteshero Van and various shops of Peckham such as JB Soul Food, Persepolis, the Library and Peckham Pulse gym and swimming pool. Overlaying the scene is a yellow haze and large musical notes are coming from Touretteshero’s house large blue joint writing that includes lyrics from the song ‘Night Nurse’: “I need attendance from my nurse, oh the pain is getting worse.”

Week 4
A digital drawing of a bright evening scene in Peckham in South London during the fourth week of the NHS clap at 8pm during the coronavirus pandemic. Central to the image is Touretteshero’s home, the Castle. Outside parked is the blue van with sky blue, white and blue racing stripes is the Touretteshero Van and various shops of Peckham such as JB Soul Food, Persepolis, the Library and Peckham Pulse gym and swimming pool. Overlaying the scene are rainbow rods coming from the Castle and some large white joint writing lying on a gust of wind that reads “Health is wealth”.

Week 5
A digital drawing of a bright evening scene in Peckham in South London during the fifth week of the NHS clap at 8pm during the coronavirus pandemic. Central to the image is Touretteshero’s home, the Castle. Outside parked is the blue van with sky blue, white and blue racing stripes is the Touretteshero Van and various shops of Peckham such as JB Soul Food, Persepolis, the Library and Peckham Pulse gym and swimming pool. Overlaying the scene there is large white joint writing that reads “Evening light bounces dancing with the sound that pounds from open windows weekly lifted by the breeze into the paths of those that need it to feel seen, thanked, loved, connected or to feel a nation watching, beating pans and bearing witness to how you use your power weekly”.

Week 6
A digital drawing of a bright evening scene in Peckham, South London during the sixth week of the NHS clap, during the coronavirus pandemic. Central to the image is Touretteshero’s home, the Castle. Parked outside is the Touretteshero Van. You can also see various shops of Peckham such as JB Soul Food, Persepolis, the Library and Peckham Pulse. Overlaying the scene there is large blue joined up writing outlined in white that reads “Give them PPE” repeated three times.

Week 7
A digital drawing of a bright evening scene in Peckham in South London during the seventh week of the NHS clap at 8pm during the coronavirus pandemic. Central to the image is Touretteshero’s home, the Castle. Outside parked is the blue van with sky blue, white and blue racing stripes is the Touretteshero Van and various shops of Peckham such as JB Soul Food, Persepolis, the Library and Peckham Pulse gym and swimming pool. Overlaying the scene translucent rainbow coloured ribbons containing the words “Don’t Worry, Be happy, ooh ooh ooh ooh oo ooh ooh ooh don’t worry be happy”

Week 8A digital drawing of a sunny evening scene in Peckham in South London during the eighth week of the NHS clap at 8pm during the coronavirus pandemic. Central to the image is Touretteshero’s home, the Castle. Outside parked is the blue van with sky blue, white and blue racing stripes is the Touretteshero Van and various shops of Peckham such as JB Soul Food, Persepolis, the Library and Peckham Pulse gym and swimming pool. Overlaying the scene is white joint writing that says “Walk like a champion”

Week 9
A digital drawing of a hazy dusty pink evening scene in Peckham in South London during the ninth week of the NHS clap at 8pm during the coronavirus pandemic. Central to the image is Touretteshero’s home, the Castle. Outside parked is the blue van with sky blue, white and blue racing stripes is the Touretteshero Van and various shops of Peckham such as JB Soul Food, Persepolis, the Library and Peckham Pulse gym and swimming pool. Overlaying the scene is white joint writing containing the words “If tomorrow is judgment day and I’m standing on the front line and the lord asks me what I did with my life I will say I spent it with you cause your love is my love”

Week 10
A digital drawing of a green evening scene in Peckham in South London during the tenth week of the NHS clap at 8pm during the coronavirus pandemic. Central to the image is Touretteshero’s home, the Castle. Outside parked is the blue van with sky blue, white and blue racing stripes is the Touretteshero Van and various shops of Peckham such as JB Soul Food, Persepolis, the Library and Peckham Pulse gym and swimming pool. Overlaying the scene is joined writing containing the words “We got love, I’m still here but I’m not sure who knows this, tonight we clapped for dentists, the pans clank and I’m thinking of my tired sister, where do we go from here and will I disappear?”

American comedian Robert Delaney who has experience of both private healthcare and the NHS described it as “basically the pinnacle of human achievement” and I agree.

But it isn’t an achievement that once reached, is established for ever. We mustn’t take our healthcare system for granted. We all have a role to play in protecting the NHS as a public service and making sure it has the resources it requires to thrive so it’s there to catch and care for anyone who needs it in future.

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