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Children in hospital: It is hard to imagine now but prior to the 1950s if your child was in hospital you could only visit at weekends, and then for only an hour, and there was little attempt at trying to explain to children what was going on and why they were in hospital. Children were also placed on adult wards. In 1954 things began to change. Paediatricians Sir James Spence in Newcastle and Alan Moncriff, at Great Ormond Street, started taking considerable steps to change this, demonstrating that such separation is traumatic for children. As a result, daily visiting was introduced, albeit, gradually.
Vaccination programme: During the 1950s there were 45,000 cases of polio reported in Britain. Before a vaccine was introduced in the 1950s, epidemics would result in up to 7,760 cases of paralytic polio in the UK each year, with up to 750 deaths. The polio and diphtheria vaccination programme was introduced in 1958 and was followed by a dramatic reduction in both diseases. Prior to the vaccination programme cases of diphtheria could hit a high of 70,000, a year, resulting in 5,000 deaths.
As well as polio and diphtheria the NHS vaccination programme targeted whooping cough and smallpox. In the coming decades, vaccinations against chicken pox, measles and rubella became a routine rite of passage for all British youngsters.
Cigarettes and cancer: The link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer was also established in the 1950s, with the NHS leading the way in raising public awareness of the dangers of smoking and the first health authority smoking withdrawal clinic was established in Salford in 1958.
Mental health: The Mental Health Act 1959 introduced a new way of caring for and treating people with mental health issues, establishing that community care should be prioritised.
Transplants: The first kidney transplant took place at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on October 30, 1960, involving identical 49-year-old twins. The operation was a huge success, with both donor and recipient living for a further six years before dying of an unrelated illness.
Kidney transplants, which for many are a welcome alternative to a lifetime of regular dialysis, now have a very high success rate, but demand outstrips supply due to an ageing population.
By the end of the 60s the first heart transplant in the UK had taken place, with South Africa-born surgeon Donald Ross carrying out the operation at the National Heart Hospital in Marylebone, London, on May 3, 1968.
Hip replacements: Now a regular feature of the NHS, the first full hip replacement was carried out by Professor John Charnely, who had been working on developing a full hip replacement since 1958. Since the first hip replacement operation, in November 1962, more than 2.3million joints have been replaced under the NHS.
Contraception: The contraceptive pill was introduced in 1961, initially only available to married women, although the law was relaxed in 1967. Between 1962 and 1969, the number of women taking the Pill rose dramatically, from approximately 50,000 to one million.
The other significant change regarding women’s reproduction rights was the passing of The Abortion Act by MPs in a free vote, which became UK law in 1968. The new legislation made abortion legal up to 28 weeks if carried out by a registered physician and if two other doctors agree that the termination is in the best mental and physical interests of the woman. In 1990, the time limit was lowered to 24 weeks.
The introduction of drugs to help fertility were also introduced during this period and in 1968, on the morning of October 2, Sheila Thorns celebrated her 30th birthday by undergoing a caesarean section at Birmingham Maternity Hospital. She gave birth to six babies. Sadly, three of the babies died. Mrs Thorns had been treated with the fertility drug gonadotrophin.
Mental health: The then minister for health, Enoch Powell, spoke at a National Association for Mental Health conference in Brighton, outlining his desire to see greater community care provision for mental health patients. His speech is considered one of the biggest milestones of the revolution in mental health treatment and signalled the end of the old asylums, changing the way people thought about mental health and mental healthcare.
Technology: In 1972, the first CT (Computed Tomography) scanner was used, revolutionising the way doctors examine the human body. ‘Cat scans’ enabled the production of 3D images, using a large number of 2D X-rays. This allows the detection and analysis of tumours and other abnormalities.
Test-tube baby: July 1978 saw the world’s first ‘test-tube baby’ born as a result of in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Lesley and John Brown had been unable to conceive because of the mother’s blocked fallopian tube., Daughter Louise Brown was born and more than a million babies have since been conceived in this manner worldwide.
Transplant: The first successful bone-marrow transplant on a child took place in 1979. Professor Roland Levinsky performed the intricate procedure on a youngster with primary immunodeficiency at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. Bone marrow is responsible for creating the body’s immune system.
HIV/Aids: After several high-profile deaths, the Aids awareness campaign in 1986 set out to make viewers sit up and take notice, using images of tumbling tombstones. The striking TV advert was followed by posted leaflets, carrying the memorable slogan ‘Don’t die of ignorance’.
Transplants: Benjamin Hardwick became Britain’s youngest liver transplant patient at the age of two on January 23, 1984. He received the procedure at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge. Although he died 14 months later, the Ben Hardwick Memorial Fund was set up to offer financial support to the families of children who suffer from primary liver disease.
In 1987, Professor Sir Roy Calne and Professor John Wallwork carried out the world’s first liver, heart and lung transplant on a single patient at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. Professor Calne described the patient as “plucky” and she survived for a further 10 years after the procedure. Her healthy heart was then donated to another transplant patient.
Technology: MRI scanners introduced in British hospitals for the first time. The patient lies inside a large cylindrical magnet and extremely strong radio waves are then sent through the body. MRI provides very detailed pictures of the brain, so it is particularly useful for identifying tumours, multiple sclerosis and the extent of damage after a stroke.
Cancer: Breast screening was also introduced in 1988 to reduce breast-cancer deaths in women over 50. Breast-screening units around the UK began proving free mammograms. The number of deaths from breast cancer subsequently dropped by more than 20 per cent.
Finance: Despite these positive developments, the NHS came under increasing financial pressure and by 1987 many regional health authorities across the country were in the red, waiting lists were growing and hospital wards were being closed.
Re-organisation: The NHS Community Care Act was passed, transforming the role of individual health authorities. The Act, which was masterminded by then health secretary Kenneth Clarke, made it possible for health authorities to manage their own budgets and buy healthcare from hospitals and other healthcare organisations. A year later the first 57 NHS trusts were established and included acute trusts, ambulance trusts and mental health trusts.
Just over a decade later however, parts of the NHS structure were overhauled again and NHS foundation trusts were set up.
Transplants: In 1994, the NHS Organ Donor Register was set up following a five-year campaign by John and Rosemary Cox whose son died of a brain tumour aged 24 in 1989. He had asked for his organs to be used to help others, prompting his parents to campaign for there to be a register for people who wished to donate their organs. The register was a huge success and by 2005 more than 12 million people had registered to donate their organs, helping to save many lives.
Services: NHS Direct was launched in 1998, heralding the launch of a range of alternatives to traditional GP services. It went on to become the largest single e-health service in the world, and handled 500,000 calls a month at its peak. NHS Direct was closed in 2014 to be replaced by the non-emergency helpline NHS 111.
Mental health: 1999 saw the launch of the National Service Framework for Mental Health, to foster higher levels of competence and good practice among mental health practitioners. Among its targets was to fight discrimination against those with mental health problems, making it easy for people to access services and create services to anticipate mental health crises.
Re-organisation: The new millennium started with the launch of the NHS Plan, Tony Blair’s bid to transform the NHS. This ambitious 10-year strategy heralded the biggest changes to healthcare in England since the NHS was formed. It contained a series of promises, including more staff, 7,000 extra beds in hospitals, over 100 new hospitals by 2010, the introduction of 500 primary care one-stop centres, more funding for cancer services and heart disease treatment.
2000 also saw the arrival of the first NHS walk-in centres, taking the pressure off GPs and A&E departments. In 2002 the first pilot scheme for free choice was launched, offering patients facing a wait of six months or more the choice of going to an alternative provider. Four years later, in 2006, the Extended Choice Network was launched. This offered patients a choice of at least four providers for planned hospital care
Gene therapy: In 2002 the first successful gene therapy took place at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, curing 18-month-old Rhys Evans of severe combined immunodeficiency.
A&E: In 2002 a four-hour target was introduced for A&E departments, with the aim of ensuring no patients spent more than four hours in an A&E department .
Cancer: In 2006 the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme was launched.
Technology: In 2007 a revolutionary robotic arm was used for the first time at St Mary’s Hospital in London to treat patients suffering from irregular heartbeats.
Vaccinations: The launch of the HPV vaccination programme took place in 2008, to vaccinate girls aged 12 and 13 against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
Regulator: In January 2009 the NHS Constitution was published, bringing together in one place details of what staff and patients can expect from the NHS. In the same year the Care Quality Commission became the new regulator for health, mental health and adult social care.
Awareness: Health awareness campaigns in 2009 included the Change4Life campaign, which aimed to tackle obesity, and Act F.A.S.T. helping people to recognise the signs of a stroke.
Wards: Also in 2009, health secretary Alan Johnson announced plans to eliminate all remaining same sex accommodation in hospitals by 2010.
Re-organisation: New proposals for the future of the NHS were published in 2010 in an NHS White Paper and in 2012 the Health and Social Care Act was published.
Accolade: In 2012, the London Olympic Games opening ceremony paid tribute to the NHS, with more than 600 nurses and other healthcare workers taking part in the spectacular event.
Transplant: Later that year the first ever hand transplant operation was carried out on a patient at Leeds General Infirmary.
Re-organisation: In April 2013 primary care trusts were abolished and NHS Foundation Trusts set up. The launch of the NHS 111 telephone service took place in February 2014 and in December the NHS Five Year Forward View was published. Public Health England launched the One You campaign in 2016, to help address preventable diseases in adults.
The NHS faces its greatest challenge in modern with the arrival of Covid-19. Medical staff volunteered to come back to work after retirement or taking a career break, Nightingale hospitals were built in a matter of days, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds each, and, in most cases, not seeing any patients. Routine surgery and appointments were cancelled.
Controversary raged over the provision of personal protective equipment and over the transfer of patients from hospitals to care homes at the beginning of the crisis without being tested for the virus.
Doctors warned off a ticking time bomb as people put off seeing advice about their non-coronavirus symptoms, with fears that cancers and other conditions could be missed and so affect the results of treatment.
Clap for Carers took off on a Thursday evening, with the country showing its appreciation for NHS and other keyworkers – the final one will be held on the NHS’ birthday, on July 5 with the organisers aiming to make it the best yet in appreciation of the amazing work our NHS has done over 72 years and will continue to do whatever it faces.
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