The NHS is born

At one minute past midnight on July 5th 1948, Edna Thomas gave birth to a baby girl at Amman Valley Hospital, Carmarthenshire.

She was the first child to be born in the newly created NHS. Her mother said choosing her name was easy.

Aneira, is the female version of the Welsh name Aneurin – the first name of the founding father of the NHS – Aneurin Bevan.


The intraocular lens

Ophthalmologist, Harold Ridley, observed that fragments of Perspex from fighter planes’ cockpit canopies, which were shattered by gunfire, did not provoke an inflammatory reaction in the pilots’ eyes. This inspired him to invent the intraocular lens (IOL), which led to a revolution in cataract surgery.

Ridley performed the first IOL operation in November 1949, at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. It is now the UK’s most commonly performed operation.

© 2018 Rayner Intraocular Lenses Limited


Cigarettes and cancer

The BMJ published Sir Richard Doll’s paper linking cigarettes to cancer in September 1950. A member of the Royal College of Physicians, he stopped smoking in the same year and lived another 55 years; conducting many more landmark epidemiological studies.

Doll, and his co-author Austin Bradford Hill, had initially suspected the new road-building material tarmac was causing the increase in  lung cancer.

At the time of the study, four in every five people smoked. Today, it’s less than one in five.


The DNA double helix

The discovery in 1953 of the double helix, the twisted-ladder structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), by James Watson, Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin marked a milestone in the history of science and gave rise to modern molecular biology.

It provided the foundation for genetic engineering, rapid gene sequencing and monoclonal antibodies and of course, became the basis of today’s biotech industry.


Polio and diphtheria vaccinations

The NHS introduced a programme to vaccinate all children under the age of 15 against polio and diphtheria. This led to a rapid fall in the number of children contracting the two diseases, saving thousands of lives every year. Babies are now given a 6-in-1 vaccine to protect them against the most serious infectious diseases, including diphtheria, whooping cough, polio and tetanus.


The Mental Health Act

Abolished the distinction between psychiatric hospitals and other types of hospitals and encouraged more treatment for mental health patients in the community. Until this point, people with mental health problems had been incarcerated in asylums.


Asthma inhaler

Asthma has changed from an uncommon condition of older children to a condition recognised and managed on a daily basis in children of all ages beyond infancy.  The NHS first introduced inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), a medication which prevents asthma symptoms in 1960. Before then, relief from this debilitating condition usually relied on herbal remedies. The device has undoubtedly improved the life of hundreds of thousands of children and also saved countless lives.


The first implantable pacemaker

The first clinical implantation into a human of a pacemaker in the UK was in 1961. Powered by mercury-zinc batteries, and made at St George’s Hospital, London, the pacemaker was expected to last about five years. Today, one million people worldwide are fitted with pacemakers.


The Total Hip Replacement

Orthopaedic surgeon, John Charnley developed the total hip replacement procedure.

His association with surgical supplies company Chas. F Thackray became one of the most enduring relationships between medicine and commerce.



By the middle of the 1960s, antibiotics were used widely to reduce rates of death and serious illness that are caused by infection.

Today, doctors are reducing the amount of antibiotics prescribed, as bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to their effects.


The first hospice

Former nurse, Dame Cicely Saunders opened St Christopher’s Hospice in London.

It is widely considered to be the world’s first modern hospice. Today there are over 200 hospices in the UK.


The first CT scan

Computerised Tomography (CT) was invented by Sir Godfrey Hounsfield who built the prototype in his garage. It used a computer to process combinations of X-rays taken from different angles to produce cross-sectional images. The first CT scan detected a frontal lobe tumour in the brain of a 41 year old woman. Hounsfield worked for the record company EMI at the time and it is claimed money from EMI’s most successful artists, The Beatles, funded the research for this invaluable diagnostic tool.


The contraceptive pill

Although first approved for use in 1961, family planning clinics were allowed to prescribe single women with the pill in 1974 – a controversial decision at the time.

For the first time both women and men could control their reproductive health.

It also separated sex from reproduction, reduced earlier marriages and enabled women to plan for childbirth around careers.


First IVF baby born – Louise Brown

Louise Joy Brown is best known as the world’s first ‘test-tube baby’. Her birth, shortly before midnight on July 25, 1978, at Oldham General Hospital in England, made headlines around the world.  The process, known formally as in vitro fertilisation was developed by RCOG member Dr Patrick Steptoe and physiologist Dr Robert Edwards. Louise Brown, reportedly, never liked the term ‘test tube baby’. She was in fact conceived in a Petri dish.


First successful heart transplant

Surgeon Terence English performed the first successful heart transplant in the UK at Papworth Hospital. The patient, Keith Castle, lived for over five years following his surgery.


First whole body MRI

Using a combination of magnetism and radio frequency waves, a team from the Department of Physics at Nottingham University developed the first whole body Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner. They are more effective in providing information about soft tissues, such as scans of the brain. The patient lies inside a large cylindrical magnet and extremely strong radio waves are then sent through the body. It provides very detailed pictures, so is particularly useful for finding tumours in the brain; it can also identify conditions such as multiple sclerosis and the extent of damage following a stroke


Laryngeal Mask Airway

The Laryngeal Mask Airway (LMA), invented by British anaesthetist, Dr Archie Brain, has revolutionised airway maintenance during anaesthesia. Before its introduction, anaesthetists used either a facemask or a tracheal tube to maintain the airway and deliver general anaesthesia and maintain breathing.

The LMA’s simplicity and effectiveness has made it the most commonly used airway device. It is less invasive than a tracheal tube, with fewer complications and ensures a quickly established airway and more rapid recovery from anaesthesia.


HIV/Aids campaign

The controversial ‘Don’t die of ignorance’ campaign faced considerable opposition from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who feared immense harm if teenagers were to read it. Health Minister, Norman Fowler, whose insistence made the campaign a reality, is widely credited for saving many lives.


Organ donor register launched

Having the central register means that a person’s wishes are recorded accurately, can be updated and reviewed and are easily accessible by healthcare professionals.

Today, 24 million people are on the register and hundreds of lives are saved each year by donated organs.


Dolly the sheep is cloned

Although not strictly speaking healthcare, the science behind the first cloning of an adult cell by Keith Campbell, Ian Wilmut and colleagues at the Roslin Institute in Scotland has had widespread implications for medical science and healthcare.


NHS Direct is launched

The nurse-led, telephone service provided healthcare advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It quickly became one of the largest e-health services in the world, handling 500,000 calls a month. It was replaced in 2014 with NHS111.


Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) or Precision Radiotherapy is introduced

IMRT/PR has been one of the most important advances in clinical oncology of the 21st century. It involves the delivery of a precise dose of radiation to the exact area of a tumour, minimising damage to nearby normal structures. Advances in imaging and computerisation have helped improve precision, allowing high doses of radiotherapy to be targeted on tumours while reducing the side effects which previously limited the benefits of radiation treatment. Radiotherapy is responsible for around 40% of cancer cures.


The first surgical robot is installed

The da Vinci robot was first used at St Mary’s hospital, London. Today the machines are used for increasingly complex procedures.


Smoking banned

On the 1st July 2007, England followed the rest of the UK and banned smoking in public places.

In the last 10 years the number of smokers has fallen to its lowest ever recorded levels.


100,000 Genomes Project launched

Focusing on rare diseases and some common forms of cancer the project aims to sequence whole genomes from NHS patients. The medical and genomic data is shared with researchers, to improve knowledge of the causes, treatment and care of diseases. By May 2018 the project had sequenced 60,679 whole genomes in England.


NHS111 online launched