The UK’s National Health Service was established on July 5th, 1948, making it 74 years old at the time of writing with plans being made to celebrate the 75th anniversary this year! The NHS was founded on the principles that it would be free at the point of use, that care would be based on clinical need, not ability to pay, and that it would be funded from general taxation.

Two female health professionals talking while walking

Right now, we hear almost daily in the news how the NHS is under significant pressure due to the following:

  • Finite funding and resources
  • The continuing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Overall increases in population
  • Increased awareness of health issues
  • Staff shortages
  • Post-Brexit instability

Waiting list times have recently started to fall for the first time since the pandemic, but recent statistics show that there are still nearly 3 million patients waiting over 18 weeks for treatment, and the average waiting time for patients receiving treatment hovering at 13.9 weeks. Compare that to 10 years ago, where the average waiting times were 8.7 weeks for admitted patients and 5.1 weeks for non-admitted patients.

patients waiting to be seen in a waiting area

The increases in pressure experienced by our NHS have made it harder for some patients to access care. As a result, the way care is delivered has changed. These changes have had a positive impact. One example is the increased use of remote consultations. Another example is the greater use of digital technologies. Finally, there has been a shift towards community-based care.

The pressures are not only felt by those trying to access treatment from the NHS, but acutely in all areas for those ‘working in the trenches.’ This week, members from the Royal College of Nursing, Physiotherapists, call handlers, Paramedics and other ambulance staff will walk out over pay and working conditions. The NHS workers union, UNISON is campaigning for pay rises that counter the pay cuts of previous years and also bring wages in line with current inflation.

How can I relieve pressure on the NHS?

While the NHS continues to be there for us, there are some things we can do to help lighten the load. While some illnesses and injuries are unavoidable, we can all reduce our risk levels and enjoy good overall health with the following tips.

A variety of healthy food including fish and vegtables

Maintain a healthy diet

Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, beans, pulses, eggs, meat and other proteins plus starchy foods like potatoes and rice is always good for your health. Minimising your intake of foods that are high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar can help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular issues. Drinking plenty of water is a quick and easy way of staying hydrated. A good water intake helps the body perform many vital processes and can also help improve your sleep quality. The NHS recommends drinking 6 to 8 cups or glasses of fluid a day – tea, coffee, and other low sugar drinks all count too.

TOP TIP: Try carrying a reusable water bottle with you and filling it up whenever you get a chance, keeping it handy at your desk at work, or set a reminder on your phone to tell you to top up your hydration levels. Frozen fruit and veg are just as good as fresh, but often cheaper and more convenient. Adding frozen spinach to soups, stews and sauces is an inexpensive but good way of getting more green veg into your diet.

Women on exercise bikes in a gym

Take regular exercise

Regular physical activity can reduce your risk of illness by maintaining cardiovascular health, strengthening the immune system, losing excess weight, and improving bone health. Find an exercise you enjoy that you can continue to do long term, whether it’s playing a sport, going to the gym, cycling, swimming, dancing, exercise classes, walking, yoga or any activity that raises the breathing and heart rate. The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.

TOP TIP: To get more physical activity into your day to day life, try taking a walk on your lunch break, take the stairs instead of a life wherever possible, or try online home workout classes that can be completed in as little as 10 minutes.

Cut out smoking and excessive drinking

Avoiding harmful habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can prevent the development of chronic health conditions, and reduce the need for medical intervention. Avoiding alcohol completely for three days each week can help protect the liver and kidneys from alcohol-related damage. Aim to drink less than 14 units a week as per NHS guidelines.

TOP TIP: Look out for alcohol-free versions of beers and cocktails you already enjoy, so you don’t feel like you are missing out when out with friends. If you are finding it hard to cut down your alcohol consumption or are worried you may have a problem, you can contact the NHS for support.

For those who want to quit smoking, there are plenty of resources that can help, including a free app from the NHS.

A younger doctor with an elderly patient in an appointment

Seek care early if you have a health issue

If you experience an illness or injury, don’t put off seeking medical attention! Many people don’t consider their problem ‘important enough’ to go to the doctor or hospital about, but it’s always better than waiting until the problem has become much worse. Early treatment can often prevent the condition from becoming more serious and reduce the need for more intensive medical interventions. If you are unsure whether a health issue requires medical attention, try calling 111 or go to

A woman having a medical appointment

Keep up with appointments

If you have a medical appointment, ensure you attend on time. Over 14 million appointments were lost in 2022 after patients did not attend and did not call to cancel, representing a loss of £391,868,370 of NHS funds! If you need to cancel your appointment for any reason, just call your doctor’s surgery or the relevant healthcare provider as soon as you are able to. You can then cancel or reschedule the appointment at a convenient time for you.

Take good care of your mental health

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Regular exercise, good sleep habits, spending time with friends and family, and practising self care can all help to improve our mental health. Having a good network of support and pre-planned coping strategies in the event of mental health issues can definitely be a big help.

TOP TIP: If you are having some issues with mental health, then don’t hesitate to contact your GP, or go to a website like Hub of Hope or Mind for helpful resources.

A woman applying sun lotion

Practise preventive measures

Keeping up to date with things like vaccinations, regular health screenings, and making sensible choices such as wearing a seatbelt and wearing sun protection can help to prevent illness and injury, reducing the need for medical care.

Remember, the NHS is here for you, and medical emergencies will always be treated as just that. With the tips above, we can all lead healthier lives with less chance of illness or injury. What tips or activities have you found that work best for you and those you love to stay as healthy as possible while still enjoying life?