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July 2024

Good Care Month: A Timeline of UK Healthcare Developments

The UK has been at the forefront in the development of medicine, disease control and healthcare throughout it's history. With advancements ranging from medical research and technology to healthcare policies and infrastructure improvements. In our second blog surrounding quality care this month and as part of Good Care Month, we're taking a look at these transformative historical events in healthcare and their impact on health and wellbeing.

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Historical Developments

In an era before technology, particularly as we know it today, Healthcare and its associations was in its infancy. During the time long before the industrial revolution, still little was known about disease and illness and its affects towards the human body. Developments focused heavily on understanding the importance of care and how supporting populations can benefit them, albeit in a rudimentary manner. Here are just a few key historical advancements that took place in the UK.

1123: Establishment of the First British Hospitals

More than 900 years ago, the very first hospital was established in the UK, in Smithfield, London, by Rahere, an Anglo-Norman priest along with the Priory of St Bartholomew, a courtier of King Henry I. This early institution, which also happened to be one of the first hospital's in Europe, was pioneering as it provided not only care and support to those in the immediate area, but also vital teaching, which still continues to this very day.

1540: Formation of the Royal College of Physicians

In 1540, King Henry VIII granted a charter to form the Royal College of Physicians in London. This institution aimed to regulate the practice of medicine by way of accreditation, in order to better patient care quality, thus ensuring that only qualified individuals could practice under legislation. Today, the Royal College of Physicians represents over 40,000 members who lead medical debates, lobby for developments in the sector and advise governments on their behalf.

1628: William Harvey's Discovery of Blood Circulation

William Harvey, an English physician, published his groundbreaking work on the circulation of blood and the, revolutionising the understanding of the human body and laying the groundwork for modern physiology. At the time of his discovery, Harvey's work was considered the greatest medical discovery of all time.

1796: Edward Jenner's Smallpox Vaccine

Edward Jenner, from Gloucester, is often cited as the father of immunology. He developed the world's first successful smallpox vaccine - a highly contagious and globally-spread disease which caused an estimated 300-500 million deaths. Jenner's pioneering work laid the foundation for modern vaccinology and significantly reduced smallpox mortality rates. The last known natural case of smallpox was considered to be in Somalia in 1977 and almost 200 years since the discovery of the smallpox vaccine, the World Health Organisations declared smallpox eradicated entirely.

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Post-Industrial Revolution

The post-industrial revolution was a time of great change in the UK. Advancements in the production of raw goods into commercially viable products that would benefit human life coincided with the discovery and breakthrough of many applications in medicine and healthcare. The 1900s was a particularly notable era of discovery and actively contributed to the welfare of people on a global scale that is still prevalent today.

1895: Introduction of X-Ray Imaging

In 1895 the discovery of X-rays quickly found application in the UK. X-ray imaging revolutionised diagnostic medicine by allowing visualisation of the human body's interior structures without invasive surgical procedures. It gave insight into injury and disease and allowed for prior planning before treatments.

1907: Founding of the National Health Insurance Act

The National Health Insurance Act was introduced in the UK in 1907. It ensured health insurance to a variety of workers and laid the groundwork for the modern welfare state. This act marked a significant step towards universal healthcare coverage as it protected workers from loss of income and earnings relating to long-term sickness or unemployment.

1928: Discovery of Penicillin by Alexander Fleming

In 1928, Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the first true antibiotic and an antibacterial drug that attacks a wide range of harmful bacteria. Fleming noticed that mould seemed to be preventing bacteria around it from growing and soon identified that the mould produced a self-defense chemical that could kill bacteria. This breakthrough revolutionised the treatment of bacterial infections and saved countless lives. Today penicillin continues to be one of the most commonly used antibiotics globally.

1948: Establishment of the National Health Service (NHS)

The NHS (National Health Service) was established in 1948 as part of a major social reform following on from World War II. The NHS provided comprehensive healthcare for all British nationals free of charge (with service costs accounted for through public taxes). This groundbreaking initiative aimed to ensure everybody had equal access to healthcare services. Today the NHS is the largest employer in the UK, and one of the largest globally with 1.6 million employees and it's services are used by approximately 1.3 million people each day - the same number of people living in all of Estonia! Additionally, since the founding of the NHS more than 70 years ago, life expectancy in the UK has grown by 13 years!

1953: Discovery of DNA's Structure

DNA was first discovered in 1869, but it took until 1953 before British scientists James Watson, Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin, and Maurice Wilkins uncovered the double-helix structure of DNA, realising it was a genetic material in human cells containing a 'code' for life. The discovery was pivotal in the fields of genetics and molecular biology. It allowed scientists to learn more about how these genetic codes are passed between generations, it allowed for identification of disease or disability even before birth, it skyrocketed the speed at which medicines and drugs were created and even helped to identify specific details about criminals or from those who are deceased.

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The Millenium And Beyond

Technological advancements continued into the early 2000's and at an unprecedented speed the likes of which had not been seen before. In just the last 25 years, there continues to be significant discovery and development in the field of healthcare.

2002: Introduction of Electronic Health Records (EHR)

In 2002, the UK began the ambitious task of integrating Electronic Health Records across the whole of the NHS. This move marked a significant step towards enhancing patient care by making health data more accessible to a variety of healthcare professionals in different environments and importantly, the information was made more secure than ever before too. It ensured access to patient data was more thorough, more accurate and more speedy, reducing the possibility of misinformation, misdiagnosis and human error.

2008: Breakthrough in Stem Cell Research

Researchers in the UK made headlines with groundbreaking advancements in stem cell research. This development opened new possibilities for treating previously unsupported conditions like Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries. Stem cell research allowed for connective tissues to be effectively reprogrammed in order to make cells better functioning.

2016: Rise of Robotic Surgery

In the last ten years, the UK Healthcare sector has embraced modern technology , one such way was through the introduction of robotic surgery systems in hospitals which first began in 2016, transforming surgical procedures. These systems increased precision, reduced recovery times, and significantly improved surgical outcomes.

2019: Advancements in AI for Healthcare

Artificial Intelligence first started making waves in the healthcare sector, with AI-driven tools being used for diagnostics and administrative tasks. From interpreting medical images to predicting patient outcomes, AI began to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery and the speed at which AI has developed since its initial implementation continues to support millions of people each year.

2020: The COVID-19 Pandemic

2020 saw a global pandemic, the likes of which have not been seen the HIV AIDS pandemic of the 1980s. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of telemedicine across the UK. Remote consultations and monitoring became the norm, making healthcare more accessible and convenient for patients, even during times of difficulty, such as during national lockdowns. A year later and in response to the global pandemic, the UK was the first western country to develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. In it's first two years, the pandemic affected 24,000,000 Brits and accounted for the lives of 230,000 people. The development of this vaccine drastically reduced the rates of infection and has been cited with saving the lives of some 6.3 million people globally in it's first year.

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From the earliest establishments of hospitals and medical colleges to the groundbreaking discoveries in genomics and personalised medicine, the UK's history of healthcare advancements is rich and varied. Each milestone, whether in the form of public health reforms, pioneering research, or technological innovations, has contributed to shaping a healthcare system that strives for excellence and inclusivity for all.

We hope you've enjoyed this foray into the development of British healthcare. For more information, please follow us on social media by searching for @deanhealthcare on all your favourite platforms. We regularly provide informative content like that which you've read about in today's blog!