The HSJ Awards – the largest celebration of health service excellence in the UK – is always a cause for cheer. However, this year, its arrival feels particularly positive.

The first reason is the sheer number of entries the awards received – more than 1,000. This was a 20 per cent increase on 2010.

The second positive is how many of the winners highlight what unites rather than divides those seeking to improve the health of their communities. The acute organisation of the year, South Devon Healthcare Foundation Trust, is part of a cutting edge approach to integrated care. Our commissioner of the year, NHS Dudley, has kept the momentum of service improvement going through the changeover to clinical commissioning.

The winner of the staff engagement category was a joint initiative from Oxleas Foundation Trust and the London Borough of Greenwich. The awards’ power to unite was further demonstrated by the fact that this entry was chosen by a judging panel dominated by union leaders – and then picked by Andrew Lansley to receive the overall secretary of state’s award.

Lest we be accused of donning rose tinted glasses, it is significant that many shortlisted entries were from health economies robust enough to deal with the disorientation caused by the financial squeeze and service reorganisation and which also have a track record of innovation. Map the shortlisted entries and you will see some parts of the country are poorly represented.

But overall, this year’s awards are a powerful reminder of both the high standards of the NHS and the restless desire to improve care demonstrated by many HSJ readers.