The NHS reaches its 69th birthday

By Catherine Sturman
Established by the Labour Party on the 5th July 1948, the National Health Service in the United Kingdom has reached its 69th birthday. Providing much ne...

Established by the Labour Party on the 5th July 1948, the National Health Service in the United Kingdom has reached its 69th birthday. Providing much needed healthcare to thousands, who had previously been denied access essential services, the NHS suddenly became ‘available to all’ at point of delivery within England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, embedding three core principles; to meet the needs of everyone, be free at point of delivery, and all care to be based on clinical need, not financials.

Employing approximately 1.6 million people across the United Kingdom, we take a brief look at te history of the NHS.

1948 – 1960

The NHS was established at a time where railways and electricity became nationalised, against a worldwide sombre mood from the Second World War. 

In 1952, prescription charges came into force, which still survives today. Additionally. The Nurses Act cam into force, which established Regional Nurse Training Committees. 

  • The link between smoking and lung cancer is established by British scientist Sir Richard Doll, as well as the development of new, effective drugs and treatments, alongside developments in cardiology and radiology.
  • The double helix in DNA is revealed by pioneers Watson and Crick.
  • Ultrasound within obstetrics becomes standardised
  • The polio and diphtheria vaccination is made available to all
  • The first kidney transplant is performed on a set of twins


1961 – 1981

  • Radical changes to heart surgery are made, such as coronary artery bypass surgery and first NHS heart transplant, besides and establishment of hip replacements. The contraceptive pill is made available for women, paving the way for the ‘swinging sixties’
  • The Abortion Act is also established in 1967
  • The NHS organisation is reorganised a year after the UK merges with the EEC.
  • Expectations of the NHS begin to peak, with a growing elderly population placing a strain on limited resources.
  • CT Scans, MRI scans and keyhole surgery are introduced into the NHS, as well as bone marrow transplants
  • Developments continue to be made in a number of medical fields. The first test tube baby is born, alongside the streamlining of services and increased GP involvement.

1982 – 2000

  • NHS Direct is established, as well as The National Institute for Clinical Excellence
  • The biggest public health campaign surrounding AIDS was released, but has since become a subject of negative prejudice.
  • Heart, lung and liver transplants are made available, alongside breast screenings to detect the early onset of cancer
  • Labour begins to place an increased interest in the NHS operations, with the establishment of walk in centres, donor registers and NHS trusts.

2001 – Present

  • Patient choice is established, providing the public with greater education and options surrounding their ongoing healthcare needs
  • Technology is becoming increasingly harnessed within medical facilities
  • For young women, the HPV vaccine to target the human papilloma virus which is linked to cervical cancer, is introduced.
  • Greater strain on NHS services, especially in areas such as mental health
  • Increased populations and mass migration has led to rising job unemployment and increased public spending. Brexit will seek to test the waters further.
  • Worldwide knowledge of healthcare has increased dramatically, as well as a large number of medical breakthroughs
  • Labour ceased to be in power from 2010, with a majority conservative government taking hold.

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