Taking part in the recent NHS anniversary parkrun proved an emotional day for Susan Blakemore.

Having started her NHS career in Scotland during the 1980s, she has worked as a nurse, midwife and manager - going on to head the county's out-of-hours GP service.

She said she has always valued the founding principles of the National Health Service, and being part of the birthday event was a nice reminder that these are still very much alive.

"I did the NHS 70 parkrun and what really came through is that the majority of patients really value the NHS, and are very thankful about the effect it has on them and their families.

"It made me feel quite proud to be a part of the NHS. It really was quite emotional," she said.

Susan is chief executive of Cumbria Health on Call (CHoC), which provides out-of-hours care across the county.

However her career started out in Fife, where she trained as a nurse and midwife during the 1980s.

She said she went into healthcare because she wanted a varied job that would give her opportunities to travel.

And, not long after qualifying, she did exactly that when she set out to work in the Middle East, in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

"I wanted to work abroad and experience a different culture, then this opportunity came up," she said.

"I was there for six months, early in my career. When I look back, it really was an amazing experience.

"When you work somewhere you become part of things, and part of their team.

"I went with a friend who was also a nurse. Recently I met up with her in Australia and we relived some of those moments."

Susan initially completed her general nursing and worked in orthopedics and trauma, still in Fife, for about a year.

She then went on to complete her midwifery training, later moving to south east London to work in a big inner city hospital.

Over the next few years she moved around the capital, going on to become a senior midwife.

Susan said her role allowed her to be part of innovative schemes, putting the patient back at the centre of their care.

For example, each woman had a named midwife in the community, looking after the mother and following them through childbirth.

"I used a combination of public transport, walking and occasionally used a bike to do my home visits. I really enjoyed that," she said.

Her family life later prompted a move to Leicestershire, where she headed a team of midwives for seven years. Again, she focused on modernising care and providing continuity to women.

Susan is married with three children, who are all now grown up. Her husband, a secondhand book seller, has always been able to work flexibly from home, allowing her to further her career.

Lovers of the outdoors, they moved up to Cumbria 22 years ago for the quality of life and opportunities to be active as a family - including getting out fell walking, cycling and wild swimming.

Initially Susan worked in midwifery again, but after a short time she decided the time was right for a career change.

She moved into NHS management, working with well-known local GP Dr Rob Walker for what was then the North Cumbria Health Authority.

While working as primary care development manager she also completed a Masters in business administration.

"I did find it very different. As a senior midwife, I had always had a managerial role, but this did take a bit of getting used to.

"There were a lot of acronyms, having been very clinically-focused previously," she said.

The primary care role gave her an introduction to the out-of-hours world, and started working as a clinical manager for what was then Cuedoc in March 2002. It was renamed Cumbria Health on Call (CHoC) in 2009, expanding to cover the whole county.

That was when Susan took over as chief executive, a role she has been in ever since - and still enjoys.

CHoC isn't an NHS trust but a not-for-profit social enterprise, delivering care on behalf of the health service.

Its main contract is to provide care and advice to those who need it when normal GP surgeries are closed.

To do that, CHoC has a team of staff working through the night, at weekends and on bank holidays.

For most who use it, contact will be via phone to the Carlisle-based call centre or at one of its treatment centres - in Barrow, Whitehaven, Penrith, Carlisle, Wigton and Kendal.

Susan said that during her time in charge, her focus has been on the quality of services, which have now been rated 'outstanding' by the Care Quality Commission.

More recently, as part of efforts to diversify, CHoC has taken on the contract to run the Glenridding Practice at Ullswater, near Penrith; launched new training and development facilities; set up telehealth links to pharmacies and care homes; and expanded the CHoC staff team to include mobile nurse practitioners, among others.

"I've been here a long time, and that gives the organisation consistency, especially when there's been a lot of change in the NHS.

"I've spent the past 10 years building up the senior management team, and quality is at the heart of everything we do.

"We talk about growth and sustainability, but at the heart of what we do is consistency. I think as a person and an individual, I am very consistent in my approach," said Susan.

She explained that they work hard to help the wider NHS, keeping pressure off frontline emergency teams.

"We support the system, and particularly the A&E front door, by keeping people out of hospital," she said.

In an area like Cumbria, where health staff are in short supply, there are challenges. But she said they are having success.

"We've had a positive recruitment campaign. We offer sponsorship for GPs who need it to remain in the UK. At the moment we've got five GPs on that scheme but have 15 licenses, so could potentially get more.

"There's a national shortage of GPs. We know some are retiring, but we've also seen some change their career and incorporate some out of hours into that.

"We also have opportunities at Glenridding, for example, which can be the icing on the cake," she said.

Going forward, Susan said they want to support NHS efforts to join up health and social care.

"I feel there's a very positive response to caring for patients together.

"We are co-located in A&E departments so patients can be streamed through to us.

"We have worked in partnership with the ambulance service and A&E to make sure that patients get the right care, in the right place.

"For patients, it's one NHS. It's our job to get them through the system," she said.

Asked whether she believes the health service has a strong future, Susan said: "I think as long as we resource that adequately, to make sure that we, together as a team, support patients who are discharged from hospital early.

"There's also a big agenda on prevention. How can we prevent patients from ending up in hospital, from falling and deteriorating?

"Our aim is to work very closely with the rest of the system, to design a 24/7 system together. That's all about really good partnership working.

"I do think we have a bright future. We always talk about money, but the challenges are around recruitment and making sure we can offer portfolio careers that are attractive.

"It is a beautiful county, but that's not enough. We have to offer a job plan that invests in you as an individual.

"If the job isn't what you want it to be you are not going to stay," she added.

"It's also about instilling confidence in the population of Cumbria, and reassuring people that they do get high quality care here.

"Parkrun was a good example of that. I was quite touched to read the thanks and comments that people made about the NHS," she added.

Susan will travel to London next month after CHoC was shortlisted in the NHS70 Parliamentary Awards.

The organisation was nominated by five of Cumbria's six MPs after becoming the first out-of-hours service in the country to be rated 'outstanding' by the Care Quality Commission.

The awards ceremony, being held on the 70th birthday of the National Health Service, will recognise the huge contribution made by those working in and alongside the NHS.

MPs were asked to find and nominate those individuals or teams they thought have made the biggest improvements to health services in their constituencies across 10 categories.

CHoC were then named regional winners in the 'excellence in primary care' category, and will find out on July 4 if they are also national winners.

Susan said she was delighted to be part of such a special anniversary for the health service.

"I'm just very proud that it's reached this really important landmark.

"For our organisation, being finalists for northern England, I'm incredibly proud to have that recognition, with five of our MPs nominating us for the award," she said.

Speaking about the CQC inspection, Susan said she knew her organisation was in good shape, though was over the moon to get the outstanding rating.

"I was optimistic. As an individual I suppose what I would say about myself is that I'm confident in the abilities of my teams, so I was quietly optimistic that we would get a very good report," she said.

The MPs also praised CHoC staff for their work during recent bad weather, with its 4x4 drivers going out day and night in heavy snow to help nurses and other staff to reach their patients.

Workington MP Sue Hayman said: "I’m delighted that CHoC has been selected as a national finalist, representing the north region, at these special awards.

“The NHS is a national institution which we all rely on, and its 70th birthday is a great opportunity to celebrate all the hard work of those who look after us so well.”

The ceremony takes place in the Palace of Westminster.

It is being hosted by Dr Sara Kayat, NHS GP and TV doctor best known for This Morning, Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls and GPs: Behind Closed Doors.

Copeland MP Trudy Harrison has also arranged for some of the CHoC team to tour the House of Commons.