It all began in 1948 when Aneurin Bevan established the National Health Service based on the premise that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. 70 years on and the NHS sees almost 1.5 million patients every day in England alone. It has provided an incredible platform for the UK’s scientific community to test and evaluate breakthrough treatments, innovative medical research and advance technologies. Having trialled countless new drugs, medical devices and procedures, the UK’s health service has saved lives and changed the world. Without the NHS, many clinical and technological innovations would not have received backing; holding back numerous ground-breaking advancements in medical diagnostics and treatments.
To mark the NHS’s 70th birthday, we remember some of the greatest medical breakthroughs that the health service uses to this day to save lives:
- DNA – In 1953, James D Watson and Francis Crick, two Cambridge University scientists, described the structure of a chemical called deoxyribonucleic acid in Nature magazine. They believed the “structure had novel features which are of considerable biological interest” and this foundational discovery has transformed medicine. We now know that DNA makes up genes, which pass hereditary characteristics from parent to child. Knowing the structure of DNA has enabled scientists to understand, identify and treat many inherited diseases.
- Vaccination programmes – in the early years of the NHS, tuberculosis, measles, mumps and polio were common. In 1958 – a polio and diphtheria vaccination programme was launched. Prior to the programme, there were up to 8,000 cases of polio per year, and as many as 70,000 cases of diphtheria, leading to 5,000 deaths. The programme ensured everyone under the age of 15 was vaccinated and led to an immediate and dramatic reduction of both diseases. Following this success, 1963 saw the introduction of a vaccine for measles.
- Organ transplants – in 1960, the first UK kidney transplant took place involving an identical set of 49-year-old twins. The procedure was a success, with donor and recipient living for a further six years before they both died of unrelated illness. In 1968 – Britain’s first heart transplant was carried out and in 1987 the NHS delivered the world’s first liver, heart and lung transplant.
- Beta blockers – in 1964, James Black synthesised the first clinically significant beta blockers—propranolol and pronethalol. They revolutionised the medical management of angina and are considered to be one of the most important contributions to clinical medicine and pharmacology of the 20th century. Today more than 37 million prescriptions are written for these drugs annually to treat a wide range of cardiovascular disorders.
- Scanning technology – in the 1970s two revolutionary technologies were introduced to the NHS – Computerised tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. Both technologies provide detailed images of the body’s internal cavities and organs to aid in the identification and diagnosis of disease states such as cancer, complex tumours, multiple sclerosis or damage following a stroke.
- Keyhole surgery– in the 1980s, surgeons introduced keyhole surgery to the NHS and used it in an operation to remove a gallbladder. A thin telescopic rod is lit with a fibre-optic cable that is connected to a tiny camera, which transmits images to a monitor. It means that surgery that would once have required large incisions and put the patient at greater risk of infection is now far less invasive and safer for patients.
- Gene therapy – in 2002, the first successful delivery of gene therapy was carried out at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, curing an 18-month-old child of “bubble boy” disease (severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID). Although a relatively new technique, it has the potential to treat some genetically related diseases at their roots. Understanding a patient’s genetic make-up means that doctor’s will be able to intervene appropriately and be better able to predict the development of a disease.
As we enter the next few years of the NHS the future is predicted to see a continuing evolution of pioneering treatments and break-through medical technologies. At Creavo, we are looking forward to playing an active role in making a significant difference in shaping the way healthcare is delivered and look forward to the progress, the ne