It’s a VERY special birthday this year. The birthday of something that has helped millions of people, employed thousands and been a loved staple of this country for so long. Yes, 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of when our National Health Service was first founded and over it’s long lifespan, there have been almost countless advancements and discoveries thanks to its existence.
It’s almost strange to think that there are quite a few people today who probably remember a life without it, and even more today who aren’t aware of just how important it is that we have such a service and what life could be like without it. (There’s a reason the plot of Breaking Bad really couldn’t take place in the UK).
In the run-up to its official birthday in July, people up and down the country are planning monumental events to celebrate as well as look back on some of the great achievements made under it.
So many of us owe so much to this great scheme, and with it under increasingly more strain as the years go on, working together to help better protect and support NHS -workers is crucial these days so this service can continue to provide the care and treatments so many rely on.
Before the inception of the NHS in 1948, medical care in Great Britain told a very different story. With no national service, patients that required treatment were usually required to pay for their doctors’ visits, with the only free services being offered by voluntary hospitals and charity organisations. If you had a large family, had a chronic condition, or didn’t have many savings to begin with, trips to the local doctor could be costly.
The first taste of the NHS was actually a result of the Second World War, with the ‘Emergency Hospital Service’ being founded. This scheme was born out of the fear of the huge number of casualties that could be caused by air raids and so employed a number of general healthcare professionals caring for those injured in such an event. Later it went on to employ more and more specialists and treat a broader spectrum of patients before the war ended. With thousands too poor to see doctors regularly before the war, the success of this service had many crying for more affordable healthcare once it was over.
And it worked
While the term ‘national health service’ had been tossed around since 1910, with some already aware of the costs of seeing a doctor too great for many, it was in 1948 that it was first launched by health secretary Aneurin Bevan at Park hospital in Manchester.
Breakthroughs in the Beginning
The NHS was a huge deal when it was first planned as it was an entirely new hospital service that took over from previously existing voluntary hospitals.
The new service almost immediately became the nation’s 3rd largest employer, with a staff of 363,000, (just to put that in perspective, the NHS now employs over 1.3 MILLION people) and gave people who previously were unable to afford proper treatment the medical care they needed.
Plus, the medical breakthroughs that followed were amazing and, for the first time, were available to everyone.
Let’s have a look….
The fifties saw some amazing medical advancements including: the structure of the DNA being discovered in 1953; a concrete link between smoking and lung cancer found in 1954; and the programme for polio and diphtheria vaccinations implemented in 1958! The latter especially tried to hammer home the point that the NHS was more than just a service that gave the entire nation access to healthcare, it also wanted to promote healthier lifestyles.
The sixties were a decade of great progression under the NHS: seeing the first kidney transplant at Edinburgh University; the first hip replacement at the Wrightington Hospital; and the contraceptive pill being made widely available with the number of women taking it, increasing from 50,000 to over 1 million in just seven years!
The seventies and eighties also saw some great medical leaps forward that, thanks to the NHS, the whole country was able to benefit from. Life expectancy had already increased by an average of 5-10 years in UK men and women and child mortality rates were ever-decreasing too.
These decades saw some weird and wonderful developments including: the birth of the first test tube baby in 1978; the first successful bone marrow transplant on a child in 1979; the first instance of keyhole surgery in 1980; and the world’s first heart, liver and lung transplant in 1987!
The 80s also saw another push towards healthier living when breast screening was introduced in 1988 helping reduce breast cancer fatalities in women over 50 by more than 20%!
This decade also saw one of the worse health crisis in recent history with the large number of AIDS deaths and the resulting in many people fighting for people ‘not to die of ignorance,’ because of the nature of how it was spread. The NHS provided treatment for those affected.
Even as little as 10-20 years ago ground-breaking things were being set up, most notably the NHS Organ Donor Register being established in 1994 with more than 12 million people registering by 2005!
The millennium saw the introduction of NHS walk-in centres giving millions of people more convenient access to a number of healthcare services. It also saw the first successful case of gene-therapy curing a toddler of SCID, the introduction of screening for bowel cancer and even the introduction of a robot arm used to treat patients for heart problems!
With so many great achievements made under this service over the past seven decades, what are people doing to celebrate? Well there are things going on up and down the country!
(While we’d like to cover them all, this blog would be fifty pages long, so let’s have a look at some of the most notable ones.)
A heritage project in Manchester is recording individual NHS stories from last 70 years, looking to the first shared social history of the scheme and give a real personal history on how it changed over the years.
The NHS in Scotland has made its own interactive timeline, highlighting all its major achievements (which are MANY), covering the first mentions of Scottish universal healthcare, all the way to the health and social care plans implemented recently.
National Theatre Wales is helping celebrate as well by having a month-long festival with performances and productions all over the country to spread the festivities.
So, with our NHS having provided 70 years of care to our country, what does the next few years hold, and will we be celebrating its 80th birthday?
No one can see the future, but making sure that all it’s employees are well cared for so they can continue delivering a service that has truly become, not only a staple, but the backbone of this nation, is crucial to its survival. With more and more schemes constantly being introduced to help our population, including hospitals working more closely with care homes and systems to lower deaths from sepsis, its still improving even after all these years and hopefully we’ll continue to see it saving lives well into the distant future.
Happy birthday NHS. Many of us wouldn’t even be here without you.
See our previous blog on the NHS HERE