NHS challenges from 1948 still faced in the health service today

A number of problems outlined 75 years ago are still faced by the health service.

Ella Pickover
Wednesday 05 July 2023 00:01 BST
Challenges facing the NHS in 1948 are still pertinent today (Alamy/PA)
Challenges facing the NHS in 1948 are still pertinent today (Alamy/PA)

While many celebrated the launch of the new National Health Service, with flags, village dances and even a carnival, one official launched the service with a somewhat sombre tone.

John Edwards, parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Health, said in 1948: “No miracle will happen when the new health services start on July 5.

“There are many out-of-date buildings and shortages in equipment and staff, and there will be 60,000 beds which it will be impossible to use because there are not enough nurses.

“But the fact that perfection cannot be attained at once is no reason for delaying the new service, the nature of which will depend very much on the people who work in it.”

Here the PA news agency highlights how some of these challenges still face the NHS, 75 years on.

– ‘Out-of-date buildings’

According to NHS Digital, the “maintenance back log” for the NHS in England alone is £10.2 billion.

This is how much it would cost to restore buildings to certain standards and covers everything from leaky gutters to faulty lifts and the very fabric of hospital buildings.

In 2022, NHS Providers warned: “Much of the NHS estate is in a bad way. So much so that in some cases bulldozing and rebuilding is the only feasible option.

“Without proper investment, leaking roofs, broken boilers and outdated technology don’t get fixed or replaced, with damaging knock-on effects on the quality of care and patients’ safety.

“The maintenance backlog is a huge problem right across the NHS.”

One NHS leader said: “We operate 21st century healthcare from 19th century buildings – increasingly unsustainable.”

– ‘Shortages in equipment and staff’

Mr Edwards would have been referring to tourniquets and stethoscope shortages as the NHS came to being.

But the health service still sometimes faces its own equipment shortages today.

In recent days, the NHS Supply Chain issued supply issue alerts for certain branded products from biopsy needles to feeding tubes to surgical scrubs.

A recent article by the Health Service Journal warned of long-running supply issues with blood collection equipment. Meanwhile in recent months, there have been shortages of vital medicines to treat menopause symptoms and a certain type of antibiotic.

On staff shortages, there are currently 112,000 vacancies across the NHS in England alone.

– ‘Not enough nurses’

When the NHS was launched, there was a call for 30,000 more nurses.

In an attempt to recruit nurses, a publicity van toured northern England – handing out application forms and showing off the latest medical gadgets.

Now the number of nurses registered to work in the UK has reached its highest ever level – almost 1.2% of the entire population are now employed as a nurse, midwife or nursing associate.

But there are still 40,096 nursing vacancies across the NHS in England.

The new NHS Long Term Workforce Plan was issued last week and sets out how the Government intends to boost the workforce – including 170,000 more nurses by 2037 – when the NHS is celebrating its 89th anniversary.

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