NHS at 75: the UK’s shining light through the years

The National Health Service celebrates another milestone birthday

NHS workers clap during Covid-19 pandemic
Millions of Britons have relied upon the health service
(Image credit: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

The National Health Service today celebrates its 75th birthday, but many are worried about its future, despite its illustrious past.

Under the 1948 National Health Service Act, the NHS as Britain knows it was first born, bringing together a wide range of medical professionals under one service.

Before its creation, many people relied upon “voluntary organisations and charities and insurance schemes”, said the i news site. “Quality healthcare”, therefore, was inaccessible for millions, the website added.

Since then, the NHS has come on leaps and bounds, while sticking to its original pledge to provide a “cradle-to-grave” service.

“Like any 75-year-old, over its lifetime our health service has grown and matured, adapting to the changing world around it”, said Nursing Times. However, the “signs of wear and tear” are becoming increasingly noticeable.

Experts remain concerned about how the service will tackle the increased burden it has faced in recent years. The NHS is “mired in backlogs after a tsunami of health issues”, The Times reported, with a “record 7.4 million people on waiting lists for hospital care”.

Despite strains, the public “remains passionately in support of the principles of the NHS,” said The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, “however glum about its current state”. The health service is a “national religion”, which many continue to celebrate, she added.

The Week takes a look at some of the key moments in its history.

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Rebekah Evans joined The Week as newsletter editor in 2023 and has written on subjects ranging from Ukraine and Afghanistan to fast fashion and "brotox". She started her career at Reach plc, where she cut her teeth on news, before pivoting into personal finance at the height of the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis. Social affairs is another of her passions, and she has interviewed people from across the world and from all walks of life. Rebekah completed an NCTJ with the Press Association and has written for publications including The Guardian, The Week magazine, the Press Association and local newspapers.