The NHS is one of the greatest and most-loved insitituions in the UK. Here are some of the key moments in the service’s history as it nears its eighth decade.
5 July 1948 Sylvia Beckingham is the first person to be treated by the National Health Service. The ambitious project of health minister Aneurin Bevan, it was based on four basic principles: a system that would provide healthcare free at the point of use and be available to everyone who needed it, paid for by taxation and used responsibly.
1951 Bevan resigns in protest at the introduction of prescription charges. Introduced at one shilling, they were abolished in 1965 but reintroduced in 1968. Today prescriptions cost £8.60 per item.
1953 Cambridge University scientists James D Watson and Francis Crick reveal the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in Nature magazine. This allowed the study of disease by defective genes and later, genome treatment therapy.
1954 Sir Richard Doll and Sir Austin Bradford Hill publish the findings of a study linking smoking and lung cancer. The research took place at 20 London hospitals and was expected to link the disease with fumes from coal fires and cars. Doll quit smoking during the research and lived to 92.
1954 Daily visiting hours for children are introduced – previously parents were only allowed to see patients on Saturdays and Sundays.
1958 Polio and diphtheria vaccinations are introduced.
1958 Thalidomide first licensed for use in the UK – it was later found to cause deformities in babies when taken by pregnant women.
30 October 1960 First UK kidney transplant takes place. The donor and recipient were a set of 49-year-old identical twins, operated on by a team at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. The operation is a success.
1961 The contraceptive pill is made widely available for the first time – from 1962 to 1969 the number of women taking the pill rises from 50,000 to 1,000,000.
1962 The first full hip replacement is carried out by Professor John Charnely. In 2014-15 122,154 patients received hip replacements.
1965 First sterile disposable gloves were available to NHS, developed by Ansell and sterilised using gamma irradiation.
April 27 1968 The Abortion Act becomes law, allowing termination up to 28 weeks. In 1990 the limit is lowered to 24 weeks. The Act still does not extend to Northern Ireland.
3 May 1968 Donald Ross leads a team of 18 doctors and nurses to carry out the UK’s first heart transplant at the National Heart Hospital in Marylebone on an unnamed patient – the donor was 26-year-old Patrick Ryan. The patient dies after 46 days due to an infection and only six transplants are carried out over the next ten years. However, up to 200 of the operations now take place each year in the UK.
2 October 1968 Sheila Thorns gives birth to sextuplets by caesarean section at Birmingham Maternity Hospital following fertility treatment. A team of 28 medical staff deliver the six babies – four girls and two boys. One of the girls does not survive and two more of the babies later die. In 2010 Vicky Lamb gave birth to four girls and two boys following fertility treatment, but one of the boys died a week later.
1972 CT computerised tomography scans revolutionise diagnosis, offering three-dimensional images by combining a series of x-rays.
25 July 1978 The world’s first test tube baby is born at Oldham General Hospital. Named Louise Joy Brown, she later reveals the hate mail sent to her parents John and Lesley Brown after the story made worldwide news. In February 2015 the 250,000th UK ‘test tube’ baby was born.
1980 The University of Aberdeen obtained the first clinically useful image of internal tissues using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). This identified a primary tumour in the patient’s chest, an abnormal liver and secondary cancer in his bones. It is now an invaluable diagnostic tool in the NHS.
1982 First biosynthetic human insulin, Humulin, available on the NHS.
6 December 1983 First UK heart and lung transplant carried out. Swedish journalist Lars Ljungberg underwent the five-hour operation – carried out by a team of 20 doctors and nurses – at Harefield Hospital in London.
23 January 1984 Two-year-old Benjamin Hardwick becomes the youngest liver transplant patient following an operation at Cambridge’s Addenbrooke Hospital. Although the operation was a success, he died the following year. Between 1 April 2004 and 31 March 2014 there were 7,156 liver transplants in the UK.
1986 First confirmed case of Bovine Spongeform Encephalopathy (BSE or ‘Mad Cow Disease’) was diagnosed. This resulted in the increased usage of disposable – and very expensive – equipment.
1987 Professor Sir Roy Calne and Professor John Wallwork carry out the world’s first liver, heart and lung transplant at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. The patient lives a further ten years – her heart is donated to another patient.
1994 The Organ Donor Register is set up following years of campaigning by John and Rosemary Cox, whose 24-year-old son Peter asked for his organs to be donated after he died from a brain tumour. Learn more about organ donation here.
1998 NHS Direct is launched. The service offers alternatives to traditional GP services, such as walk-in centres and telephone advice. The service was closed in 2014 and replaced by NHS 111, a non-emergency number for medical help.
2002 The first successful gene therapy is carried out at Great Ormond Street Hospital, curing 18-month-old Rhys Evans of ‘bubble boy’ disease, a severe immunodeficiency disorder.
2002 A four-hour maximum waiting target is set for Accident and Emergency departments. Following years of increasing pressure on the NHS, coupled with austerity measures introduced by the Conservatives, health minister Jeremy Hunt revised the target so it applied only to urgent health problems in January this year.
2006 NHS bowel cancer screening programme launched.
2006 Pneumococcal meningitis vaccine catch-up programme for babies up to two years of age – those most at risk – is launched.
2007 NHS Choices website launched, offering information about health, lifestyle and NHS services.
2007 A revolutionary robotic arm is used to treat patients with fast or irregular heartbeats at St Mary’s Hospital, London. The machine works by guiding wires through a vein in the groin up to the heart and delivering electric currents to specific areas of the heart.
5 July 2008 The NHS celebrates its 60th anniversary, with celebrations taking place across the UK.
2008 A national programme to prevent cervical cancer is launched, offering the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine to all 12 and 13-year-old girls.
2009 F.A.S.T. (Face-Arm-Speech-Time) is launched, a campaign to raise awareness of the visible signs of stroke. It wins the IPA Effective Gold Award in 2010.
27 August 2010 The UK’s first operation to fit a single cochlear implant capable of giving sound in both ears takes place at Southampton General Hospital.
2011 Matthew Green becomes the first man to receive a portable total artificial heart (TAH) implant. The TAH replaces both ventricles in the heart, but is only a temporary measure until a transplant can be found. The operation, carried out at Papworth Hospital, takes six hours.
2012 F.A.S.T. campaign relaunched.
27 July 2012 London Olympic ceremony pays tribute to the work of the NHS.
23 August 2012 First nerve-stimulating implant fitted in a UK patient with chronic heart failure at Glenfield Hospital. The implant stimulates the vagus nerve and slows heart rate, reducing blood pressure.
27 December 2012 Mark Cahill becomes the first UK patient to receive a full hand transplant in an operation at Leeds General Infirmary. In April Chris King became the first UK patient to receive a double hand transplant after undergoing surgery at the same hospital.
2013 Ian Christie is the first person to receive a new liver after the organ had been kept alive and functioning on a machine between being removed from the donor and transplanted into the patient.
2016 Tagrisso, a breakthrough drug that can lead to “unprecedented” reduction in lung cancer, becomes available on the NHS.
2017 NHS marks its 69th anniversary amid controversy over funding cuts and public sector pay rises