It is a year since I became Chief Executive of the NHS and in that time we have yet again seen our brilliant NHS staff deal with the growing demand for services alongside the pressures of further waves of Covid.

At each stage we have delivered, including when Omicron hit the country and we turbo-charged the NHS Covid vaccination booster programme to protect the public, save lives and keep as many people out of hospital as possible.

NHS staff are moving heaven and earth to deliver the Elective Recovery Plan, the most ambitious catch-up programme in health service history, and their efforts are virtually eliminating 104 week waits for elective procedures. Once again you and your teams have shown that when we are given the tools and resources we need, the NHS delivers for our patients.

The pandemic super-charged NHS innovation with staff using new drugs, technology and ways of working to treat those with the virus and care for millions with other conditions. I saw this in action at Royal Berkshire in April, with their teams using virtual wards to support hundreds of patients remotely. What struck me most was seeing the essential and complex work they do and how they deliver with both professionalism and pride. 

We are committed to getting early diagnosis rates for cancer as high as possible to save more lives. Thanks to our latest campaigns on the signs and symptoms of cancer, more people than ever before are coming forward for checks and GPs are referring people at record levels. We are doing everything we can to find cancers that may otherwise go undetected and to make it as easy as possible for those most at risk to get vital, lifesaving tests – from liver and lung trucks travelling the country, to genetic testing and high street checks in pharmacies.

Continuing to grow mental health services remains incredibly important. The rollout of mental health support in schools is already a year ahead of schedule. And we have recently announced that fully trained experts from local NHS trusts will offer people with severe mental health problems a consultation, treatment, peer support or a referral to hospital teams without needing a GP appointment.

But recovery of services isn’t just about getting them back to where they were before the pandemic or expanding them. It’s also about working differently. The Health and Care Act 2022 means we can fully realise the benefits of integration and deliver better health and services for every community. 

We’re doing this by breaking down the old-fashioned barriers to services and realising the full potential of all our different NHS teams. For example, people struggling to lose weight will be offered help from their local high street pharmacy as part of the NHS’s radical action to tackle rising obesity levels and type 2 diabetes. Pharmacists can now offer smoking cessation support too. 

Over the last 12 months, the NHS has led the world in new technologies and treatments, from the roll out of genetic testing for a rare form of diabetes and hearing problems in babies, to the first NHS ‘population health agreement’, giving hundreds of thousands of patients with high cholesterol and a history of cardiovascular disease access to the lifesaving drug Inclisiran. And in October, I announced the first treatment on the NHS for sickle cell disease in over 20 years.

The NHS’s ability to carry out research at a scale unrivalled around the world is reflected in the Galleri programme, with more than 140,000 volunteers trialling a blood test that can detect dozens of cancers. Another pilot scheme will see chemotherapy delivered by drones, and the roll out of home blood pressure checks has benefited 220,000 people following their diagnosis of uncontrolled high blood pressure. 

We are not shying away from the challenges we face. The Ockenden Review set out the terrible failings in maternity services suffered by women and their families at what should have been the most special time of their lives. The NHS is committed to making sure our services are as safe as possible for mums, babies and families. They deserve our hard work and dedication to get things right, and that is what we will give. 

Too many patients say it is difficult to get a GP appointment even though colleagues in primary care are working flat out. That is why I commissioned the widely-welcomed Fuller Stocktake to chart a roadmap to reform which we can all get behind and deliver. As there are also complex barriers to access in NHS dentistry, in June we announced the first in a set of reforms to the dental system in 16 years.

We must continue to hold a mirror up to the NHS, admit when we can do better and, crucially, act on that learning. In June I met Stephanie, who lives with sickle cell disease. She told me how difficult it was to get the help she needed from the NHS. That month the NHS launched a new campaign to boost awareness of this genetic disorder which disproportionately affects people from Black African and Caribbean backgrounds. When it comes to health inequalities, and other barriers to care for our patients, we are learning and we are acting.  

Ultimately, we are nothing without our workforce. We have more staff than ever before – but we also have over 100,000 vacancies. We know that having the right number of people with the right skills in the right jobs is key to meeting our ambitions for patients.

That is why we are developing a Workforce Plan, so we understand the numbers we need – and the art of the possible with the colleagues we have now, ensuring they can deliver the high standards of care they are passionate about and that our patients rightly expect. 

Our ability to offer mutual aid at times of pressure, harness the expertise of the whole system to deliver the NHS vaccination programme at speed and roll out new life saving drugs such Dexamethasone the very same day they were approved, shows the collective strength of the NHS.  I am not surprised that, as we look forward to the 75th anniversary of the NHS’s foundation next year, public support for the NHS is incredibly high.

I do not underestimate the challenges and opportunities ahead but we are tackling them head on.  One year into the job, I remain realistic but optimistic.  If the last 12 months have taught me anything, it is that together we, the NHS, will succeed for our patients.