Posted on 5/07/2018 by David Burgess
Exactly 70 years ago, on July 5, 1948, the people of Britain woke up to a new National Heath Service offering free care at the point of delivery.
In the years that followed a range of dreaded diseases – such as tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, mumps and rubella – would be virtually wiped out.
Life expectancy in 1948 was 65.9 for men and 70.3 for women.
By 2016 it was 79.5 and 83.1 respectively.
At the same time the size of the organisation has expanded enormously.
In 1959, there were 89,659 hospitalbased nurses, midwives and health visitors in England and Wales.
By 2017, this had increased to 343,529.
In 1979, 23,062 GPs were working in England.
By 2017 this had increased to 39,843.
The NHS began with 480,000 in-patient beds in hospitals throughout the UK, compared to 140,000 today.
This is partly because more treatment is carried out by GPs and physiotherapists and partly because of the rise in day surgery.
Heart conditions were the biggest killer of men aged 35 and over and in women aged 55 plus when the NHS started out.
Simon Gillespie, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Treatment for a heart attack in those days was limited to painkillers and bed rest, with survival rates low.
“Today, thanks to dedicated research, more than 70 per cent of people now survive.”
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens hailed the “brilliance” of its 1.5 million staff.
Mr Stevens said: “It’s a time for celebration, looking back over seven decades when we’re all living a lot longer and healthier – 10 years extra.
“We’ve seen amazing advances, whether it’s organ transplantations, new cures for cancer or vaccines.”
Last night Prime Minister Theresa May held a Downing Street reception to mark the 70th birthday.
She said: “In my line of work there are not many ideas from 70 years ago that are unquestionably supported today, but that is undoubtedly the case with our National Health Service.
“In a world that has changed almost beyond recognition, the vision at the heart of the National Health Service – of a tax-funded service available to all, free at the point of use with care based on clinical need, not the ability to pay – still retains near-universal acceptance.
“Every day, you get up and go to work so the NHS can continue to do what it has done every day for 70 years – provide the British people with some of the best healthcare in the world.”
However, while the NHS is regularly described as one of the best healthcare services in the world, it has not been without controversy.
Among the scandals was the revelation at the turn of the century that in the 1980s and 90s Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital had stripped hundreds of dead babies of their organs without the permission of relatives.
Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust also found itself at the centre of a major public inquiry.
It was found that up to 1,200 people may have died as a result of maltreatment and neglect between 2005 and 2009.
Then in 2015, Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt was forced to apologise to families following the unnecessary deaths of 11 babies and one mother at Furness General Hospital, Cumbria.
There have also been a series of outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile (C diff).
Hygiene failures in 2005 and 2006 at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust led to 90 deaths from C diff.
Another outbreak at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Buckinghamshire caused the deaths of 33 patients between 2003 and 2005.
Pressures on today’s health service include obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease and dementia.
Britain also faces caring for an ageing population – by 2040, nearly one in seven people in the UK is projected to be aged over 75.
The financial situation is also a source of contention, with 44 per cent of trusts in deficit in 2017/18.
The annual budget for NHS England is more than £110billion.
The Government recently announced an extra £20billion a year by 2023/24 as a “birthday present”.