ASK not what the NHS can do for you, but what you can do for it.

That's an interesting thought as this much-treasured national institution reaches its 70th birthday.

And the sentiment would probably get the thumbs up from Nye Bevan, die-hard socialist and founding father of the NHS while health minister in the post-war Labour government.

Next Thursday – July 5th – is the NHS's 70th birthday. Much focus is being placed on the state of its own health as it enters its eighth decade. Underfunded and oversubscribed, the established view is that the NHS is creaking and at breaking point – even accounting for the promised cash injection "birthday present" from the Government.

Imagine the NHS as one big chocolate cake (with 70 candles on top). We all want a bit of it, but there just isn't enough to go around.

Of course, there could be if we decided to make a bigger cake. Or more cakes, with different flavours, shapes, and decorations.

We'd need more ingredients though – and that costs money. And whether we make one bigger cake or a batch of different ones needs some thinking about too. Do we want a one-size-fits-all NHS (as imagined by Bevan), or a patisserie shop version distinguished by variety and difference?

In recent years, we have been pursuing this latter route, while pretending that we still have the one big chocolate cake.

But this hasn't worked. We can't really have this cake and eat it. The proof of the pudding lies in the disaster that is our health postcode lottery and the sheer unfairness of how we treat people with dementia.

Let's have a bite at both of these problems. When Nye Bevan established the NHS in 1948 it had three founding principals: that it would be available to everyone, would be free at the point of delivery and be based on clinical need, not ability to pay.

The NHS is still guided by this core ethos, but because it has to ration its resources, it has developed an inherent unfairness in how it delivers its services. Back in 1948, Bevan would never have countenanced the notion that a patient's access to treatment or medicine would depend on where they lived. And yet, that is the reality of our postcode lottery where some health service areas choose not to fund procedures or drugs available elsewhere in the country.

The way we force people suffering from dementia to pay for their own social and residential care is another blatant infringement of the NHS's core principles. If you have a heart attack, cancer, stroke, or a serious accident requiring long-term care or rehabilitation, then the NHS (or rather the taxpayer) foots the bill. Alzheimers or dementia? Tough luck. Sell your home and pay your own way.

We are right to be proud of our NHS, but until it can address these two glaring anomalies which cause countless agony for patients and their families everyday, it is betraying the memory and vision of Mr Bevan.

The time is long overdue for politicians to put party politics to one side and put the safeguarding of the NHS first. There should be an elected cross-party body to carry out a thorough review of the NHS and – adhering to its guiding principles – deliver a new blueprint fit for the 21st century to see us through the next 70 years. It would mean more taxes, but most people would be happy to pay if they knew the money would be ringfenced for healthcare.

In the meantime, we can all do our bit. The NHS website lists a range of ways we can help, from looking after ourselves (yes, that means lose weight, stop smoking, cut down on the booze and get active) to using medicines wisely (don't take a prescription if you don't need one!). It also suggests getting a job with the NHS or working as a volunteer. You can take part in medical research, give blood and join the organ donor register too.

And you can always fundraise. On Thursday, The NHS Big 7Tea is taking place – where people are being asked to get together for a cuppa and raise funds for our health service (find out more at the NHS Big 7Tea website).

Time to get the kettle on.

(BLOB) We want to hear readers' stories about the NHS, whether good or bad, for an upcoming article. Please email or telephone: 01904 567263