Publish date: 23 November 2023

Our National Health Stories Live, being held in Manchester later today, celebrates the 75th anniversary of the NHS and honours the voices of its staff with a major programme of artistic work created in collaboration with 19 NHS Trusts across England including UCLH.

Over the past six months, thousands of NHS staff at 80 hospitals, from Somerset to Newcastle, have taken part, telling their stories in their own words, creating artworks that reflect on what it means to be part of the NHS at this landmark moment in its history.

A live finale performance at Aviva Studios in Manchester has been developed with NHS staff by a creative team led by artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, with writer Chris Bush, composer Ruth Chan, dramaturg Teunkie Van Der Sluijs and associate director Jennifer Tang.

This evening NHS staff from all over England will be onstage at Aviva Studios with a professional cast and musicians, plus faces from across the NHS. Each trust will be sharing their story - through poetry, music, dance and more - with the live audience in Manchester, plus audiences around the country via livestream at The creative team are providing a framework for these stories with new writing from award-winning Sheffield playwright Chris Bush (Standing at the Sky’s Edge) and specially composed music by Ruth Chan.

Staff and visitors were invited to a special preview of UCLH’s performance at the University College Hospital Grafton Way Building yesterday evening.

Funded by UCLH Charity, UCLH Arts & Heritage commissioned five poets to create new work in response to words from UCLH staff in the NHS’s 75th year. The poets are Madelaine Accalia, Esme Allman, Sarah McCreadie, Courtney Conrad and Thembe Mvula, and they have been working with midwives, receptionists, nurses, scientists, doctors, porters, physiotherapists, radiologists and others at UCLH. Last night, the poets read their creations and musician Konstantinos Glynos responded to their work.

The event was filmed and UCLH’s performance will be streamed online from 12 noon today at

Our National Health Stories was initiated by the National Arts in Hospital Network, a group of NHS arts managers who develop arts and cultural programmes to support staff and patient wellbeing in hospitals. It builds on the incredible work already being undertaken within the 19 participating Trusts, including UCLH which co-chairs the network through arts curator Guy Noble.

The project is funded by Arts Council England and NHS Charities Together in partnership with NHS England. It has been made possible through the support and funding of the 19 participating NHS Trusts and their hospital charities. 

Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director, Our National Health Stories said: ‘It's important to tell stories of the NHS from the inside. Often we talk about the NHS as one huge monolith, but actually, it’s people who make the institution. I want to hear their voices, I want to hear their stories, to hear how they have negotiated the last few years. I want to help articulate that particular dedication to service and care. The creative team for this project are the NHS workers themselves, and the art will come from the ground up.’

Ellie Orton OBE, Chief Executive at NHS Charities Together, said: ‘As the national charity caring for the NHS, we know art is an incredible tool for supporting staff mental health and are delighted to be involved in this initiative. Working in the NHS is a wonderful, challenging and unique experience and this project is here to help staff to reflect and to share their personal stories, while making a difference to wellbeing. The workforce has made the NHS what it is today and over the last 75 years have touched all our lives in some way – Our National Health Stories will be a powerful way for us to celebrate them and this amazing institution.’

Rebecca Blackman, Director, Audiences & Engagement at Arts Council England said:

‘We are proud to support this innovative project celebrating 75 years of the NHS with Arts Council National Lottery funding. Our National Health Stories will support thousands of NHS workers to express and develop their creativity, and to tell their stories in new and impactful ways under the brilliant artistic leadership of Kwame Kwei Armah. We are grateful to the Network for Arts in Hospitals and all the partners involved in making this exciting programme a reality.

There is increasing evidence that creativity and culture can play a key role in improving physical and mental health. It can be profoundly fulfilling and a source of inspiration and delight, helping us to make sense of ourselves and each other. Creativity and culture can provoke and uplift us, unite communities and bring us joy.

We’re delighted that people from every level across the trusts involved will have the opportunity to see and hear their stories reflected and we are looking forward to seeing the benefit that this project will bring to people’s lives.’

A BBC Radio 4 programme inspired by Our National Health Stories is available on BBC Sounds. The NHS at 75: Covid Memories features writing from NHS staff supported by hospital arts teams, and new poetry from emergency department nurse and poet Piers Harrison-Reid.

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Visitors and staff enjoying the special performance at UCLH. The five poets and musician pictured: Madelaine Accalia, Esme Allman, Sarah McCreadie, Courtney Conrad, Thembe Mvula and Konstantinos Glynos (photo by: Alicia Clarke).