The NHS at 65


The NHS was launched on July 5 1948. Over the 65 years since then it has continually grown, evolved and improved to become a source of national pride and a service envied around the world.

Healthcare before the NHS

In 1911 the Health Service in Britain ran an insurance system that gave benefits to the person paying into the scheme, but not their dependants. They also had access to a doctor, but this was limited in terms of what services could be provided. Hospital treatment was only for those with tuberculosis.

The Poor Law offered limited support to most struggling citizens. The Public Health system of the time provided school meals and education and eventually set up hospitals. Voluntary hospitals were available but only existed through charitable donations and quickly ran into trouble during the financial crisis of the 1930s.

Basically, the health systems in place in Britain were inadequate and limited for the country's rapidly growing population and economy. Areas of particular concern were around hospital care and support for working class families. There was a heavy reliance on self-care, so illness and births caused major family issues.

1948 birth of the NHS

The NHS was created with the promise that "everybody, irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation, shall have equal opportunity to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available".

The UK's National Health Service came into existence on 5 July 1948. On this date, the then Health Secretary, Aneurin Bevan, marked the inauguration with a visit to Park Hospital in Manchester – the first hospital in the world to offer free healthcare to all.

The demand for healthcare since the inception of the NHS has been growing. People in 1948 that had learnt to live with pain, illness and disease came forward for help, knowing they had no financial penalties.

Key facts and breakthroughs

The NHS is one of the largest employers in the world along with the Chinese Army, Wal-Mart and the US Department of Defense. The NHS employs 1.3 million people across the UK. NHS Staff come in contact with 1.5 million patients every day.

The oldest person to have a hip operation was a 101-year-old woman at Good Hope Hospital in the West Midlands. Britain's first sextuplets were born at Birmingham Maternity Hospital in 1968 to Sheila Thorn.

The world's first test tube baby was born on 25 July 1978 in Oldham, since when more than a million IVF babies have been born. The average life expectancy has increased by at least 10 years since the NHS came into existence.

How things have changed

After a cataracts operation patients had to spend a week having their head supported with sandbags in 1948.  

Cataracts operations today take roughly 20 minutes and patients go home on the same day.

Back in 1958 hip operations were so rare that surgeons requested the artificial hip to be returned once a patient had died.  

Today the NHS carries out more than 1,000 hip replacements every week.

The first heart transplant patient survived 46 days after the surgery.


Now two-thirds of patients who have heart transplants are still alive five years on.

The first test tube baby was born in 1978. In 1948 tuberculosis was the biggest cause of death, with 22,000 such deaths across England and Wales.


Today there are more than 6,000 test tube babies born every year in the UK.The number of tuberculosis deaths is 70 times lower than in 1948.

During the 1970s only half of women diagnosed with breast cancer were alive five years on.


Today, more than 75 per cent of women are alive five years after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Also during this time fewer than a third of men diagnosed with prostate cancer survived five years.


Today, two thirds of men survive for five years or more after diagnosis of prostate cancer.

What can be improved?

Heart disease is one major area – it caused a third of all deaths back in 1948 and still does today. TB and polio have decreased dramatically, but other diseases like HIV have emerged. Obesity, diabetes and dementia are other areas that present challenges in the next 65 years.



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