Explore: 70 years of the NHS

70 years of the NHS

In 1948, the National Health Service was born – a development which would go on to touch and even transform the lives of every one of us. Since then it has changed dramatically. We look at the major milestones over the last 70 years and the role the BHF has played.


The NHS is born

Health secretary Aneurin Bevan (pictured below) launched the NHS at Park Hospital in Manchester (today known as Trafford General Hospital). The guiding principle was that it would be available to all and free at the point of delivery – it would be financed from general taxation. One of the first patients was Sylvia Diggory, 13, who was suffering from a liver condition.  


Prescriptions charges introduced

Prescription charges and dental charges were introduced. The first charges were one shilling (5p) for a prescription and £1 for dental treatment. Prescription charges were abolished in 1965, but reintroduced three years later. 


DNA structure revealed

James D Watson and Francis Crick, two Cambridge University scientists, described the structure of DNA, which makes up genes. Genes pass hereditary characteristics from parent to child –everything from hair colour to risk of diseases. The British Heart Foundation is funding many studies to understand more about how your genes influence your risk of different heart and circulatory diseases, so that the heartbreak caused by these diseases can be prevented in future.


Discover how we're finding the genes that cause heart disease.


Smoking and cancer link established

The British scientist Sir Richard Doll began research into lung cancer in the 1940s and he published a study in the British Medical Journal, co-written with Sir Austin Bradford Hill. The study warned that smokers are far more likely than non-smokers to die of lung cancer. Later in the 1950s, several studies showed that smoking was also linked to heart disease.


Find out how smoking affects your heart


Polio vaccination was introduced in the UK



The Percy Commission report on the care of people with mental illness

The committee had been set up by Winston Churchill in 1959. It recommended that where possible, people with mental disorders should be treated in the community and not in large psychiatric institutions, and that mental health treatment should become part of the NHS, not a separate system. In 1959, the Mental Health Act built on the recommendations of the Percy Commission. The Act said that community care should be the first choice and that patients with mental ill health should not be considered any different.  


British Heart Foundation founded

The British Heart Foundation was founded by a group of medical professionals wanting to fund extra research into the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of heart and circulatory disease.


Explore our interactive timeline to read the story of our impact.


The launch of the contraceptive pill

It went on to contribute to changing roles of women in society and to change relationships between men and women. But at first it was mainly prescribed to married women with children who did not want to expand their families further.


Enoch Powell's Hospital Plan

This set out plans for the development of district general hospitals for population areas of about 125,000.


The Abortion Act

The Abortion Act was introduced by the Liberal MP David Steel and is passed on a free vote on October 27 1967, becoming law on April 27 1968. It made abortion legal up to 28 weeks (lowered to 24 weeks in 1990) if doctors agree that is in the best mental and physical interests of the woman. The act does not cover Northern Ireland.


Britain's first heart transplant

Britain’s first heart transplant at the National Heart Hospital in Marylebone, London. The first heart transplant in the UK, on 3 May 1968, was the tenth in the world. It was done at the National Heart Hospital in London. It was performed by Donald Ross (pictured centre left, wearing glasses, at the press conference which followed). Ross was funded by the BHF for a further 20 years of surgical advances.


Explore our timeline of the history of heart transplant.


CT scans revolutionise the way doctors examine the body

Computerised tomography (CT) scanners produce three-dimensional images of the inside of the body from a series of X-rays. They can be used to diagnose and monitor, and guide the treatment of, many different conditions.


Learn about CT scans of the heart.


Reorganisation in Northern Ireland

Hospitals, which had been managed by the Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority and Hospital Management Committees from 1948 to 1974, were transferred to four health and social services boards, along with responsibility for social care. This means that health and social care are integrated in Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK.


The Mental Health Act

The Mental Health Act (1983) introduced the issue of consent in mental health treatment and set out when people can be detained, or “sectioned”. It applies in England and Wales, and is still the main piece of legislation that covers the assessment, treatment and rights of people with a mental health disorder.


First MRI scanner for cardiovascular research

The first MRI scanner in the UK for cardiovascular research was installed at the Brompton Hospital in London, and it made the first clinical MRI heart scan. Since then the BHF has funded millions of pounds of scanners for research at universities all over the UK. We’re now funding even more cutting-edge imaging techniques.


Learn more about cardiac MRI scans.


Whitehall II study set up

Part-funded by the BHF, this study followed a group of more than 10,000 civil servants, and has taught us a lot about how social and economic factors affect health and wellbeing. It is still running and is now a world-class study of ageing. Read more about what we’ve learned about ageing from this study.


The first AIDS health campaign

At the time, there was no treatment for Aids. Health Secretary Norman Fowler introduced the campaign to raise awareness of the need for safe sex. It started with a newspaper campaign, followed by leaflets and television ads (including the 'Iceberg' advert below) in early 1987. The campaign was designed to shock, using images of tombstones and icebergs.  


World’s first heart, lung and liver transplant

Professor Sir Roy Calne and Professor John Wallwork performed the world's first liver, heart and lung transplant at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. The patient, Davina Thompson, 35, survived for more than 11 years following the surgery. The procedure helped pave the way for other multiple organ transplants.


Test your transplant knowledge in our heart transplant quiz.



NHS breast and cervical cancer screening introduced

Mammograms (X-ray images of each breast) were offered to women over 50 so that abnormalities could be spotted earlier. Women aged 20 to 64 were offered cervical cancer screening – previously, there had been some localised screening, but no standard, centrally organised screening programme. 


The first NHS trusts were set up

NHS trusts were set up in the first of several reorganisations of how health services are planned, structured and paid for.


NHS Organ Donor Register created

The register was launched across the UK. It replaced an earlier kidney donor card scheme that had existed since the 1970s. Despite the register, people still die because of a shortage of donated organs.


First nurse led minor injuries unit in Scotland

The Minor Injuries Unit at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh opened as an alternative to A&E – a model that was later followed by walk-in centres in England.


NHS Direct began

This telephone service for non-emergency health problems was piloted in three areas of England in March 1998, with a website added in 1999. The service was rolled out across England in 2000, followed by Wales in 2001. The Scottish equivalent, NHS 24, was founded in 2001. It has since been replaced with NHS 111 in England, Wales and Scotland. 


NHS walk-in centres introduced in England

NHS walk-in centres were opened, usually run by nurses and available to everyone without an appointment or the need to be registered to visit a walk-in centre.


Four-hour target for A&E departments

The 4-hour target to ensure no patient spends more than 4 hours in an accident and emergency (A&E) department from arrival to admission, transfer or discharge was set up in 2000. In 2003, a 98% target was set up. The target has been challenging for the NHS recently. In winter 2017-2018, England, Wales and Scotland all recorded the lowest numbers of A&E patients being dealt with within the four-hour target since records began in 2010 (although the Scottish figures did improve after December).


BHF funded research into heart attack treatments

The Leicester Interventional Cardiology group at the University of Leicester unit led research on drug-releasing stents, carrying out studies to assess the benefits of stents that release anti-platelet and anti-thrombotic drugs, which prevent the formation of clots. This work highlights that thrombolytic (clot-busting) agents are of limited benefit, and can only open about 65% of blocked arteries.


Watch an angiogram in our 360 degree video.


BHF launches a programme to support teenagers

Teen Heart, the BHF’s programme to support teenagers living with any heart condition, was founded under its original name of [email protected] It’s still going strong, bringing together young heart patients at great events and has even expanded to include the One Beat programme supporting 18-30 year olds with a heart condition. 


Learn more about our support programmes for young people.


Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme began

This English scheme, which is still running, is designed to make it easier to access talking treatment on the NHS for people suffering from depression and anxiety disorders. Patients can self-refer or be referred by their GP.


Learn more about treatments for depression.


Smoking ban in restaurants, pubs and other public places

The ban was introduced in Wales and Northern Ireland, followed by England in July.


Discover how the smoking ban has changed our health.


NHS Choices health information website launched

It was integrated with the NHS Direct website and since then has been the website for the NHS and health advice in England.


New guidance on drug-releasing stents

The health watchdog NICE released new guidance, based on the work carried out by the BHF-funded Leicester team. The number of heart attack patients treated with angioplasty subsequently doubled between 2008 and 2011.



Change4Life advertising campaign launched, aiming to prevent people becoming overweight by encouraging them to eat more healthily and exercise more.


Watch our animation to discover what happens inside your body when you exercise.


End of mixed-sex hospital accommodation announced

The health secretary Alan Johnson announced plans to help hospitals eliminate mixed-sex accommodation. This was supposed to happen by 2010, though in fact it took several years before all hospitals had done this.


Find out more about same-sex hospital accommodation, including data on which hospitals still fail to provide single-sex accommodation.


The NHS Constitution was published

This was the first summary of what staff, patients and the public can expect from the National Health Service, and what rights you have as a patient. It included a promise that nobody should wait more than 18 weeks for consultant-led NHS treatment (from the time the GP refers them for treatment.) Previously, some patients had waited up to 18 months for some kinds of treatment. This target has proved challenging for the NHS, which has not met it since April 2016. An updated NHS Constitution was published on April 1 2013, making changes around patient involvement, feedback, end of life care and integrated care, among other areas. 


Stroke Act F.A.S.T.

The campaign was launched to help people recognise the signs of stroke and encourage them to call 999. The sooner a stroke patient receives treatment, the better their chances are of surviving and reducing long-term disability. The campaign was later relaunched in 2012. 


Watch our video to learn about life after stroke.


Care Quality Commission launched

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) was launched as a new regulator for health, mental health and adult social care.


Get the CQC view on how far the NHS has come in its 70 years, in our interview with Professor Ted Baker, Chief Inspector of Hospitals (pictured above).


Abdominal aortic screening introduced

The screening was offered to men in their 65th year – men over 65 are at greater risk of this condition. If an aortic aneurysm is not detected and bursts, it can be fatal. The British Heart Foundation is funding several research projects trying to understand more about the causes and treatments of aortic aneurysm. These include Dr Marc Bailey at Leeds University, who is studying the cells of the artery wall to understand the changes that lead to this condition.


Learn more about abdominal aortic aneurysm.


The Health and Social Care (Reform) Act in Northern Ireland

This Act led to a reorganisation of health and social care delivery in Northern Ireland. It set up the Health and Social Care Board and five Health and Social Care Trusts which are responsible for the delivery of primary, secondary and community health care. The act also established five local commissioning groups which work in parallel with the health and social care trusts.


NHS Health Checks introduced

This service in England was set up to assess and help to tackle reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and kidney disease. It has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, but many people don’t take up the offer of a health check. The service is offered to those between 40 and 74 who haven’t already been diagnosed with a long-term condition. 


New guidelines recommend that over-80s should receive treatment for high blood pressure

The guidelines, from the health watchdog NICE, are based on a BHF HYVET trial of 3,845 patients aged 80+ with high blood pressure, recruited from across 4 continents and given either blood pressure lowering (antihypertensive) therapy, or a placebo.


Get our top tips for how to reduce your blood pressure.


The first heart failure specialist nurses

The British Heart Foundation tested the first heart failure specialist nurse posts, visiting patients in the community and in people’s homes. The evaluation demonstrated that they play a major role in managing and supporting heart failure patients. As a result this is now a mainstream role in the BHF.


Discover how nanotechnology is helping us find new treatments for heart failure.


Benefits of statins proven for low-risk people

Cholesterol Treatment Trialists’ Collaboration published a large-scale analysis showing definitively that the benefits of statin therapy outweigh the hazards in people at low risk of CVD. This suggests that statins are effective at preventing first-time heart attacks and strokes in apparently healthy people, as well as further events in heart attack and stroke survivors.


Can you tell statin fact from fiction?


Launch of the 100,000 Genomes Project

Plans were announced to introduce DNA mapping for cancer patients and 190 “rare diseases”, including many inherited heart conditions, within the NHS. Revealing patient’s genetic make-up will tell doctors more about their condition and treatment needs, and help develop life-saving new drugs, treatments and scientific breakthroughs. Genomics England’s Chief Scientist, Professor Mark Caulfield, has received funding from the BHF for much of his career. The BHF Chief Executive, Simon Gillespie, has had his genome sequenced as part of the project because of his inherited high cholesterol. 


Discover more about the 100,000 Genomes Project.


The new health and care system set up in England

Following the Health and Social Care Act, a new NHS structure came into effect, including NHS England and Public Health England. The Act put more focus on public health and was also designed to strengthen the commissioning of NHS services and increasing democratic accountability and public voice. It also abolished primary care trusts in England.


NHS friends and family test introduced

Since 2013, patients have been asked whether they would recommend hospital wards, A&E departments and other NHS services to their friends and family if they needed similar care or treatment. In December 2014 the test was rolled out to GP practices and in January 2015 to mental and community health services.


The Francis report – the final report of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust public inquiry – was published

The inquiry was set up following an inquiry into the care of patients and high death rates at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust from 2010 onwards, Robert Francis QC published his final report showing that the whole NHS system did not have enough checks and balances in place, and did not do enough to ensure patients were treated with dignity and suffered no harm. The 1,782 page report has 290 recommendations including a more patient-centred approach, better medical training and nursing, and better complaints handling. 


New specialist nurse posts for people with inherited high cholesterol

Familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) is caused by a genetic fault that leaves people with abnormally high cholesterol that significantly increases their risk of heart and circulatory disease, including heart attack and stroke. We funded a ground-breaking genetic testing programme so people with the condition could be identified and treated. As a result more than 2200 people have been diagnosed with a faulty FH gene and started on appropriate treatment.


Learn more about familial hypercholesterolaemia.


Updated guidance on statins

Health watchdog NICE published updated guidelines on the prevention of heart and circulatory disease, informed by large-scale research that was part-funded by the BHF. Simvastatin (40 mg) is recommended as the first-line treatment for CVD prevention in high-risk patients.


Get answers to common questions about statins.


Tobacco control

The UK Tobacco and Related Products Regulations came into force, implementing the European Union Tobacco Products Directive. It ordered larger picture health warnings which must make up 65% of cigarette packaging; a ban on flavours such as menthol and vanilla that conceal the smell and taste of tobacco; and a ban on selling cigarettes in packs of less than 20. It also regulated packaging, standards and safety for e-cigarettes for the first time. And it banned the advertising of e-cigarettes in print media, on the radio and television.


Learn more about e-cigarettes.


Specialist nurses for a potentially deadly inherited heart condition

The British Heart Foundation and the family of Sir David Frost have launched a new nationwide genetic testing service to identify people at risk of the inherited heart condition HCM, which killed Sir David’s son Miles. The first posts were launched in Belfast and six Specialist Inherited Cardiac Condition sites across the UK are benefiting from the funding. 


Learn more about the Miles Frost Fund.


The NHS at 70

The NHS celebrates its 70th anniversary year in 2018. The BHF's research is continuing to find better ways to treat the patients of the future. Discover more about the NHS at 70.