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The history of the NHS in England

The NHS in the 1980s

AIDS campaign ribbons

After a number of high-profile deaths, the first AIDS advertising campaign was launched in 1986. 

1980s – MRI scans introduced

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners prove more effective than earlier equipment in providing information about soft tissue such as the brain.

The patient lies inside a large cylindrical magnet and extremely strong radio waves are then sent through the body. 

MRI provides very detailed pictures, so it is particularly useful for finding tumours in the brain. It can also identify conditions such as multiple sclerosis and the extent of damage after a stroke

1980s – keyhole surgery

Keyhole surgery is used for the first time in an operation to remove a gallbladder. The technical name for it is laparoscopic surgery, after the instrument that's used to perform the surgery. A thin telescopic rod lit with a fibre-optic cable is connected to a tiny camera, which sends images of the area being operated on to a monitor.

The procedure will go on to be one of the most common uses of this kind of surgery. It will also be used for hernia repairs and removal of the colon and the kidney. 

1980s – The Black Report

David EnnalsCommissioned three years earlier by David Ennals, then secretary of state, the report aims to investigate the inequality of healthcare that still exists despite the foundation of the NHS. This includes gaps between social classes in the use of medical services, infant mortality rates and life expectancy.

Poor people are still more likely to die earlier than the well-off. The Whitehead Report in 1987 and the Acheson Report in 1998 both reached the same conclusion.

1981 – improved health of babies

Childhood survival has been revolutionised by vaccination programmes, better sanitation and improved standards of living, resulting in better health for both mothers and children.

Pregnant women are much more aware of how to protect their unborn child by improving their diet and avoiding smoking or drinking.

Increased numbers of births in hospital mean that medical help is on hand where unexpected problems occur. Around one baby in eight requires some kind of special care when they are born, often because they were premature or had a low birth weight.

Twenty years ago, only 20% of babies weighing less than 1kg (2lbs 2oz) at birth survived. Now that figure is closer to 80%. Explore the NHS Choices Pregancy and baby guide to learn more. 

1985 – Britain’s youngest liver transplant patient

Ben Hardwick and his motherBenjamin Hardwick became Britain’s youngest liver transplant patient at the age of two on January 23 1984.  His parents appeared prior on BBC’s That’s Live television programme to raise awareness of organ donation when Ben urgently needed a transplant, making him a celebrity.

Ben received the transplant at Addenbrooke Hospital, Cambridge to treat the effects of biliary atresia, a condition that causes inflammation to develop within the bile ducts around birth, leading to bile become trapped, build up, and damage the liver. If untreated, the condition rapidly leads to cholestasis, growth failure, cirrhosis, and will result in death from end-stage liver disease.

Although the transplant itself was successful he died 14months later just after is his third birthday on March 23 1985.

In his memory, Ben’s family set up the Ben Hardwick Memorial Fund to offer financial support to the families of children who suffer from primary liver disease. In 1997 the fund’s work was taken over by the Ben Hardwick Fund.

January 2014 will mark the 30th anniversary of the first British childhood liver transplant remembering Ben Hardwick and reflecting on the stories of adult survivors of childhood liver transplant. Today around 100 children undergo childhood liver transplant annually in the UK.

1986 – first AIDS health campaign

After a number of high-profile deaths, the AIDS advertising campaign sets out to shock, using images of tombstones and icebergs. It was followed early in 1987 by a household leaflet carrying the slogan "Don't die of ignorance".

This campaign was in line with the original NHS intention to improve health and prevent disease, as well as offer treatment.

Watch the original TV ad 'The Aids Monolith' on the National Archives website. Read more information about AIDS and HIV.

1987 – heart, lung and liver transplant

Professor Sir Roy Calne and Professor John Wallwork carry out the world's first liver, heart and lung transplant at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. Professor Calne describes the patient as "plucky" and she survives for a further 10 years after the procedure. Her healthy heart is donated to another transplant patient.

1988 – breast screening introduced

An ambitious project to reduce breast cancer deaths in women over the age of 50 is launched, with breast screening units around the country providing free mammograms.

A mammogram works by taking an X-ray of each breast. These X-rays show changes in tissue that might otherwise be undetectable. This means that any abnormalities show up as early as possible, making treatment more effective.

Together with improved drug therapies, including tamoxifen and herceptin, screening will help reduce the number of breast cancer deaths by more than 20%, a trend that looks set to continue.

Find out more about today's NHS breast screening programme

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Page last reviewed: 05/07/2013

Next review due: 05/07/2015

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