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NHS at 70 – How Has the Health of the UK Changed in the Last 70 Years?

Friday 6 July 2018 Data Insight & AnalyticsDemographic Data

Stewart Eldridge's picture
By Stewart Eldridge

As you’ll know, the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday this week and has just been awarded a £20 billion present from the Government. This institution is something quite special as every single day lives are changed by the very talented and dedicated health care professionals who make it work despite the challenges it faces.

In England and Wales in 1948 the life expectancy of a man was 66 and a woman, 70 years of age. In 2016 the life expectancy of a man was 79 and a woman, 83 years of age.

Office for National Statistics (ONS)

It is fascinating to see how the demographics of the population; our housing and our occupations have changed since the launch of the NHS. It is also amazing that in the space of seventy years that life expectancy has increased by thirteen years leading to us all living longer.

Park Hospital – now known as the Trafford General Hospital – is regarded as the first NHS hospital and was opened by Aneurin Bevan in July 1948. There were 845,000 homes in Greater Manchester around the time the hospital was opened, there were no pressures of an ageing population and the workforce was dominated by those who worked in manufacturing and mining. When you look at Greater Manchester today, you will see that there are now over 1.2 million homes, the population aged 80 plus has doubled and occupations are largely in the utilities, construction and transport sectors.


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Whilst living longer is fantastic news, it also brings with it the challenge of complexity. Communities up and down the country are now far more diverse, with very different health concerns than in 1948. Changing diets, lifestyles and cultures have seen the need for the NHS to adapt to meet existing needs and those of the future. Despite this increase in complexity, unlike 1948, the NHS now has access to vast data resources to develop, deliver and improve services. The ‘big data’ revolution has provided greater access to open, administrative and commercial data sources that can be used to better understand our communities and evidence decision-making to meet the demand of our changing lives.

The Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery, for example, has collated and published open data about heart surgery carried out in the UK since 2005. They have an unrestricted online tool that is used by clinicians, patients and researchers alike, that offers the ability to filter and analyse surgery data. The NHS has said that the publishing of cardiac surgical outcome data is estimated to have reduced the number of deaths in heart surgeries by up to 1,000 annually.

As we celebrate its 70th birthday, we should take time out to thank all the people who have made the NHS what it is today. It is true that Aneurin Bevan helped launch the institution back in 1948, but it is the hard work and dedication of the many Doctors, Nurses, Midwives, Surgeons, Researchers, Allied Health Professionals, cleaners, porters, security and administration staff who, over the last 70 years have been at the heart of the NHS. Happy Birthday NHS!

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As the NHS celebrates its 70th Birthday, we look at how the health of the UK has changed since 1948

Happy Birthday NHS!