5 July 2023 marks 75 years of the National Health Service (NHS).
Treating over a million people a day in England, the NHS touches all of our lives.
When it was founded in 1948, the NHS was the first universal health system to be available to all, free at the point of delivery.
Today, nine in 10 of people agree that healthcare should be free of charge, more than four in five that care should be available to everyone, and that the NHS makes them most proud to be British.
This is because, since 1948, the NHS has always evolved and adapted to meet the needs of each successive generation.
From Britain’s first heart transplant in 1958, to Europe’s first liver transplant in 1968.
From the world’s first CT scan on a patient in 1971, revolutionising the way doctors examine the body, to the world’s first test-tube baby born in 1978.
Large-scale vaccination programmes protected children from whooping cough, measles and tuberculosis, and in 1999 the meningitis C vaccine was offered nationally in a world first.
The NHS has delivered huge medical advances, including the world’s first liver, heart and lung transplant in 1987, pioneering new treatments, such as bionic eyes and, in more recent times, the world’s first rapid whole genome sequencing service for seriously ill babies and children.
During the pandemic, having a single national health service enabled research to be carried out at an unprecedented scale and find the world’s first effective treatment for Covid-19, dexamethasone, making it available across every hospital the same day it was approved.
Having a single national health service enabled the delivery of the first accredited Covid-19 vaccine in the world, but to rollout the NHS vaccine programme with a combination of speed and precision unseen elsewhere.
The NHS is now a leader in adopting innovative medicines, with industry data showing there are five treatments available in England for every four in Europe, as well as almost a third more cancer drugs. Purchasing power means this can be done at a price that benefits taxpayers as well as patients.
In 2022 alone, in robotics systems have helped to treat patients with prostate cancer and get them back to their homes in less than 24 hours after surgery. We saw the first new treatment for sickle cell disease in over two decades, and the 100th cancer drug was fast tracked to patients through the NHS Cancer Drugs Fund.
Integrated care systems were also established across England, bringing health and care organisations together to address health inequalities and plan services to better meet the needs of our number one priority – our patients. These local health and care services are designing new proactive models of care, improving health and wellbeing today and for future generations.
The NHS is very proud of how its staff worked tirelessly to respond to the pandemic and care for thousands of patients. But the virus is still with us, and dealing with its after-effects will take us, and other health systems across the world, several years to fully recover.
The NHS are putting plans in place to help us to fulfil our ambitions, and to deliver better health and services for every community.
Having an NHS today is helping with the most ambitious catch-up programme in health service history. Last summer, hospitals across England worked together to ensure that the longest waits for elective care were virtually eliminated, and eighteen-month waits fell from a high of almost 125,000 to under 33,000 by February 2023.
Major recovery plans – one on elective care and a second on urgent and emergency care – have set out how we will stabilise and recover these NHS services and create a solid platform to deliver our long-term ambitions. A plan to improve GP access and a workforce strategy are set to follow, creating clear and much needed direction.
Latest data shows that the population of England has grown by almost 3.5 million in the past decade, and as a nation we are living longer than ever before. We are seeing more people in older age groups, with almost one in five of the population aged 65 and over, and that number is expected to grow in the years ahead. It is also the most diverse our nation has ever been, with 1 in 6 people in England from minority ethnic backgrounds.
As we look ahead, embracing innovation is critical in enabling the NHS model to deliver better outcomes for our growing population. That means using IT and data more effectively; integrating health and social care; getting better at preventing illness, not just treating it; and speeding up the introduction of 21st century genomics-based medicine.
Innovating for future generations also means developing new services, such as our NHS National Centre for Gaming Disorders, the UK’s only clinic to support people with gaming disorders, and specialist addiction services for those suffering from gambling disorders, with seven clinics live across the country. England has also become the first country in the world to launch clinical training in perinatal mental health using extended reality (XR) technology.
More than 100,000 patients have been treated in NHS virtual wards in the last year for conditions such as frailty and acute respiratory infection, freeing up capacity in our hospitals and allowing patients to get care at home. That’s around the same number of patients who had a hip replacement last year in England.
None of this innovation would be possible without the skill and expertise of NHS staff, volunteers and our partners in the social care sector. From the midwives who help bring us into the world, the GPs and pharmacists who are our first port of call when we are sick, the nurses, doctors and other clinicians who care for us in our time of need, the porters and cleaners who keep our hospitals moving, and the hundreds of thousands of dedicated staff and volunteers in between – our people are the driving force in helping us do this.
From the day it launched, the NHS has relied on staff from across the world – from the Windrush Generation of 1948 to today’s workforce, represented by over 200 nationalities.
As we mark 75 years of the NHS, we are looking back on our achievements, as well as looking ahead to the opportunities we have to shape the next 75. Our task is to plot and deliver a future in which we preserve the key principles on which the service is founded; tackle the challenges ahead and embrace future opportunities.
We have to confront the underlying issues behind growing demand, alongside workforce constraints, social care provision, and our changing health needs as a nation.
Everywhere you look, innovation is helping the NHS rise to these challenges, easing pressures and providing ground-breaking diagnosis and treatments.
The NHS is committed to transforming services, delivering for patients and better understanding the local populations we serve. We know we have much to do, but through modernising our outpatient services, rolling out new proactive and preventative models of care, and creating a sustainable system for the future, we will ensure the NHS continues to be the healthcare envy of the world.