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The history of the NHS in England


Since its launch in 1948, the NHS has grown to become the world's largest publicly funded health service. It is also one of the most efficient, most egalitarian and most comprehensive.

The NHS was born out of a long-held ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth – a principle that remains at its core.

This section gives an overview of the changes and milestones of the NHS in England from its launch in 1948 to the present day.


Aneurin Bevan founder of the NHS

The early years 1948-1959

Read about the humble beginnings of the NHS from its launch in July 1948 to the first vaccination programmes and medical and scientific breakthroughs of the decade.

The NHS in the 1960s

The 1960s is the decade marking the UK's first major heart and liver transplants. It's also the era of the contraceptive pill and the birth of Britain's first sextuplets after fertility treatment.


Louise Brown world's first test tube baby

The NHS in the 1970s

Read about the world's first test-tube baby and how CT scans revolutionised the way doctors examine patients' bodies.

Aids ribbons

The NHS in the 1980s

AIDS awareness receives a major push with the first TV advert being aired in the UK. It's also the decade the first breast screening programme is introduced with the hope of reducing breast cancer deaths in women over 50.

NHS organ donor card

The NHS in the 1990s

In the 1990s the first NHS trusts emerge and the NHS organ donor register is launched. We'll also see NHS Direct for the first time which, over the years, has become the largest single e-health service in the world.

Robotic arm

The NHS in the new millennium

The new millennium sees a nationwide smoking ban, the first bowel cancer screening programme and the 60th anniversary of the National Health Service.

The NHS in the 2010s

The present day NHS is undergoing major changes to its core structure, including who makes decisions about NHS services, service commissioning and the way money is spent. It's also the decade of great medical breakthroughs and health innovations.

Page last reviewed: 06/06/2018

Next review due: 06/06/2021

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