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NHS at 75 - Some of the NHS's greatest achievements since 1948

NHS at 75 - Some of the NHS's greatest achievements since 1948

As the NHS turns 75 years old, we take a brief look at some of the greatest achievements of the UK's National Health Service

75 years ago today at Park Hospital in Manchester – now known as Trafford General Hospital – the staff received a visit from health minister Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan.

After a small ceremony involving Bevan, some nurses, and a few local dignitaries, 13-year-old Sylvia Beckenham – later Sylvia Diggory – became the first ever patient to receive care on the National Health Service.

Ever since then, free healthcare based on need has been provided at the point of delivery to everyone in the UK.

While that's unquestionably the greatest achievement of the NHS, it has also been responsible for a number of medical firsts, groundbreaking scientific developments, and great technological leaps forward.

It’s come a long way since that small hospital in Trafford became the first NHS facility, and 75 years on, we’re going to have a look at just a few of the NHS's greatest hits over the years.

The world’s first IVF birth

Louise Brown was the first IVF baby ever born.

On July 25 1978 at Oldham General Hospital – just across Greater Manchester from Park Hospital – Louise Johnson Brown was born through a planned Caesarean section.

Her parents Lesley and John had been struggling to conceive for nearly a decade, with doctors finding that Louise had blocked fallopian tubes.

However, they suggested a brand new procedure that had been developed by three experts, Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards, and Jean Purdy.

In a petri dish – rather than the ‘test tube’ that the media preferred – Louise was conceived through the new process of in-vitro fertilisation.

In 2010, Edwards – the last surviving partner of the process’ development – received the Nobel Prize for this work.

Louise’s sister Natalie was also conceived through IVF, and became the first person conceived through IVF to give birth without IVF in 1999.

The remarkable discovery has given countless couples another hope of conceiving a child where it otherwise might not have been possible.

Eradication of polio in the UK

A child receives a polio vaccine in 1959.

Back in the 1950s, just years after the NHS was formed, polio was a disease that affected some 4,000 people each year in the UK.

Caused by contact with the faecal matter of an infected person or transmitted by droplets in a cough or sneeze from an infected person, it was causing serious issues, which could result in paralysis or even death.

However, a vaccine was developed by American virologist Jonas Salk in 1956, and it was rolled out in the UK by the NHS the following year.

To say that it was effective is an understatement.

The last known polio outbreak in the UK occurred in 1970, with the last natural case occurring in 1984, thanks to NHS vaccination programmes ensuring that all children are protected against the disease.

In 2003, Europe was declared polio-free, with the disease effectively eradicated across the entire continent.

First-ever triple transplant – heart, lungs and liver

A team of surgeons and medicals performed the first-ever heart, lung and liver transplant on the NHS.
Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

At the age of 35, Davina Thompson was given the choice between ‘this or death’ when offered the first-ever triple transplant because of her lung and liver disease.

Thompson, from Rotherham, decided to take the chance and on the night of 17 December 1986, she went under the knife, allowing surgeons Professor Roy Calne and Professor John Wallwork to attempt to save her life at the NHS’s specialist heart and lung hospital in Papworth, Cambridgeshire.

Without the surgery, they estimate she would have lived only an extra few months and her quality of life would have been ‘dreadful’.

Wallwork had performed the first successful heart-lung transplant in Europe two years earlier, while Calne had performed Europe’s first liver transplant in 1968.

After 12 hours of surgery involving a team of 15 people, it was declared a success.

Davina – Professor Calne later said – led a ‘full life’ afterwards, before dying at the age of 47 in 1998 after a lung infection.

Bionic eyes give blind people the chance to see again

Keith Hayman was given a bionic eye on the NHS after going blind in his 20s.
NHS Handout

Since the beginning, the NHS has been at the forefront of medical technology, and that has continued into the present day.

In 2009, a trial took place at Manchester’s Royal Eye Hospital that saw then-68-year-old Keith Hayman fitted with a bionic eye.

Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in his twenties and forced to retire from his job as a butcher in 1981 after going blind, Hayman was given a new lease of life after being given the Argus II retinal implant.

Afterwards, he said: "Having spent half my life in darkness, I can now tell when my grandchildren run towards me and make out lights twinkling on Christmas trees.”

The UK’s Covid-19 vaccine development and rollout

The NHS took charge of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, with great success.
Daniel Harvey Gonzalez/Getty

On December 8 2020, 90-year-old grandmother Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world ever to receive a vaccination jab for Covid-19.

Since March that year – and for some time after – the world had been brought to an almost complete standstill by the new coronavirus.

The UK became the first country in the world to approve and start rolling out vaccines, with that work being performed by the workers and volunteers of the NHS.

It marked the first blowback against Covid-19, and eventually led the world back to a place of relative normality where everyday life is no longer affected by the virus.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the NHS is that it exists, and is still free.
Mike Kemp/Getty

In truth, this list is always set to be incomplete, as the NHS has enjoyed so many huge achievements in the past 75 years.

Vaccines and immunisations for whooping cough, diphtheria, measles, meningitis C, cervical cancer (HPV) and others have been rolled out, technology has been used to create bionic arms as well as CT scanning and MRI machines.

Pioneering surgery has become commonplace for the UK’s health service over the years, as well as revolutions in the treatment of diseases such as cancer.

Nowadays, the NHS is more necessary than ever, but it has never faced greater existential threats.

Often undervalued and taken for granted, the 75th anniversary of Nye Bevan’s visit to that small hospital in Trafford should not be forgotten, nor should those who have worked tirelessly to make the NHS what it is today, and continue to work towards those ends every day.

Featured Image Credit: Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust/Mike Kemp/Getty

Topics: UK News, Health, NHS, World News, History