Since it came into being in 1948, the National Health Service (NHS) has literally acted as a lifeline for millions of UK citizens. Now treating around 3m people every week, it was the first service in the world to offer completely free healthcare on the basis of citizenship rather than payment of fees. Though not without its challenges, the NHS has revolutionised health standards during its half century reign of caring for Britain, ensuring that high quality treatment and medical expertise is available to everyone regardless of their financial circumstances.
Then & Now
The facts are evident. In 1930s and 40s Britain, thousands died of infectious diseases like pneumonia, meningitis, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and polio every year.
Figures from the UK census indicate that in 1911:
- The UK population stood at 36.1m (today it reaches circa 56.1m)
- Infant mortality prior to the first birthday was around 13% (this accounted for approximately one in every four deaths in the whole population)
- Life expectancy at birth in 1911 was 49 years for men and 53 years for women
In contrast, infant mortality rate recorded in 2011 stood at just 4.4 in 1,000, and has fallen by 60% in the past 30 years (ONS). The NHS must take a huge share of credit for these advances, as without the service it has provided the UK, a quality standard of healthcare would only have been accessible to children from affluent families.
Over the last 50 years, the average life expectancy across England and Wales has increased by approximately 10 years for men and 8 years for women. This staggering statistic surely affords a nod to the advances in medical care and research that the NHS has achieved during its 60-year reign.
However, the fact we’re enjoying longer lives is not indicative of an extended quality of life. Between 1990 – 2010, men’s life expectancy increased by 4.7 years and women’s by 5.1 years – but the extra years of good health were only 3.9 years and 4 years respectively.
Meanwhile, the soaring cost of care home fees remain to pose huge concern for the UK, as the price of a residential room rose at double the rate of inflation between 2011 and 2012.
So, if we’re on average spending longer in deteriorating health than ever before, how is the NHS evolving to befit the UK population’s needs?
The NHS Continuing Care program has been established to help alleviate the financial deficit that elderly UK residents incur in later life. The program works by providing assistance to those who qualify under a stringent set of guidelines. Any patient about to be discharged from hospital who may be eligible for continuing care must be assessed and a care plan and/or funding arrangement put in place before they can leave hospital.
So, by vastly reducing infant mortality rates to increasing life longevity, the NHS has dramatically improved the health of UK residents over the past 60 years. Now evolving to ensure that key resource is provided to sustain quality of life, the NHS continues to revolutionise UK healthcare across the board.
This article was contributed by Cheselden.