The NHS – 70 years young

1948: a time of austerity, of taking stock and coming to terms with the aftermath of war. The initial euphoria of victory has worn off and the work of rebuilding shattered lives, homes and infrastructure is underway. But this too was a time of hope and ambition; a determination not simply to rebuild the past but to create the future. One of the great projects to arise from that time was the National Health Service (NHS).


Seventy years on and the NHS continues to deliver its initial promise to provide healthcare which is free at the point of delivery. The road hasn’t always been smooth and in a strange way the NHS’s success has been the root cause of one of its prime challenges. Pioneering research allied to a drive to develop new techniques and skills has helped people to live on average ten years longer nowadays than at its inception; in the process placing additional strains on resources.


Nevertheless we shouldn’t underestimate the impact which the NHS has had not simply on lives but also on society. For example, this writer’s mother joined the NHS as a nurse in the year of its birth. Following initial training in England she was offered an opportunity to further her skills, firstly in France and then in America; a far cry from post-blitz London and offering a level of mobility which may not have been so available for young women before the war. Those skills that she learnt at the infancy of the NHS were then used throughout her life to benefit others.


This is only one story, but as we had heard time and time again over recent weeks it is the individual stories which demonstrate the true worth of our health services. Stories of lives saved or transformed thanks to pioneering techniques; stories of humanity and compassion; and tales highlighting the dedication of those who have followed the path of medicine in order to help others.


But whilst it may be true that in part the NHS is the victim of its own success, technological advances are already making a measurable difference. Online appointment booking, automated appointment reminders and digital records are all helping to reduce admin time. Remote health monitoring is removing the need for multiple hospital appointments, whilst the availability of video links brings specialist knowledge to remote areas of the country. And new developments are coming out all the time. Who would have thought only a few years ago that cancer treatments could be personalised based on an individual’s genetic make-up?


When the NHS started seventy years ago innovations such as these would never have been envisaged, let alone possible. In seventy years time they may be seen as somewhat old-fashioned, replaced by ever improving technologies delivering individual healthcare. But progress or not, one thing remains at the heart of our national health service and that is the relationship of care between those in need and the doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, osteopaths and other health professionals who provide lifelong health services.