As the NHS celebrates its 75th anniversary, an art installation of community-made knitted hearts has taken over County Hall in Durham.

As the NHS celebrated its diamond jubilee on Wednesday, July 5, it’s difficult to imagine life without a national health service, particularly given the vital role it played in confronting the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.

In 1948, when health secretary Aneurin Bevan, launched the NHS, it was the climax of a hugely ambitious plan to provide quality healthcare for all.   

For the first time, hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists were brought together under one umbrella organisation to provide services that are free for all at the point of delivery. 

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The Northern Echo: 75th anniversary celebrations in the North East.

In one move, and on a single day, the NHS took control of 480,000 hospital beds in England and

Wales, making 125,000 nurses, 5,000 consultants and a budget of £437m available to care for patients.

75 years on, the much-loved NHS employs more than 1.2 million people - including almost 124,000 hospital doctors, 300,000 nurses and over 36,000 GPs.

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust wanted to celebrate this major landmark in a way that staff, patients, and local communities can get involved in, and represent the compassion and kindness so vital in delivering excellent patient care and kindness.

A call went out for blue knitted and crocheted hearts – and the response from both individuals and knitting groups was “phenomenal” – with over 1500 hearts received. 

The Northern Echo: 75th anniversary celebrations in the North East.

These have been integrated into a giant temporary installation which, from Wednesday, has been on display on the grounds of County Hall, Durham for all to see. The council site was chosen to host the installation due to its grounds being easily accessed by members of the public.

Commenting, Sue Jacques, chief executive, at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said: “In addition to celebrating the exceptional work our staff do –whether in caring for our patients directly or through vital behind-the-scenes services, this anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on the many advances in healthcare seen over the last 75 years.  

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The Northern Echo: 75th anniversary celebrations in the North East.

“Mass vaccination and screening programmes, joint replacements, MRI and CT scanners, organ transplants and the organ donor register, keyhole surgery and so much more are all now integral to the daily life of the NHS. 

“Average life expectancy in the UK has also increased from 69.2 years in the 1950s to 81.7 years.

“I am incredibly proud of all our staff and am delighted that members of the public have worked with us on this installation, demonstrating that the NHS is at the heart of our local communities.”

Commenting at the unveiling, Cllr Chris Hood, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for adult and health services, said: "This is a great representation of just how much the health service means to our local community. Over 2,000 people have come together on the NHS's diamond jubilee to make this brilliant representation. 

"Like everyone else, we cherish our National Health Service and greatly value its contribution to British society over the last 75 years.

"We also value the joint working we do with the NHS and are therefore only too pleased to house what will be a wonderful celebration of the health service, at County Hall."

Celebrations have also been kicking off in other parts of the region - in Northallerton, Our Hospitals Charity hosted a Big Tea Party. Stalls, historical exhibitions, and entertainment were all on offer - raising money in aid of the local hospitals.