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Looking back on 60 years of the NHS

27 June 2008

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Doctors from the past and present are featured in a new British Medical Association (BMA) publication commemorating the 60th birthday of the NHS. “Looking Back Looking Forward” highlights key milestones in NHS history and honours doctors’ contribution to medicine and healthcare over the last 60 years.

A collection of stories, featuring doctors who were studying medicine or who qualified at the start of the NHS, reflect personal experiences of the early years in NHS history and BMA doctors, representing today’s medical profession, look ahead to the next 60 years and beyond.

Dr Oliver Woods is part of four generations of doctors. His grandfather, both his parents and he were all GPs in the County Armagh area in Northern Ireland; his son is a consultant in Belfast. In “Looking Back Looking Forward” he says: “I was only 13 when the NHS was set up but my parents often talked about the early years of the health service. They were excited about its introduction but also viewed it with trepidation.

Dr Woods goes on to describe the marked increase in workload which the NHS brought. “In our practice there were morning, afternoon and evening surgeries. The Saturday evening surgery was the most popular of the week, when farmers came into town, some to evening Confession, some to the pub to socialise – often starting in the doctor’s waiting room!”

He continues: “I think some of the finest achievements of the NHS have been the provision of free medical care and the marked reduction in maternal mortality and in perinatal and neonatal mortality rates.

“One of the best things about being a GP was that you were an independent contractor. You had a list of patients you cared for in the widest sense, which was a source of mutual satisfaction and respect.

“I believe that the biggest challenge to the NHS in the future is the rising cost of the highly technical, highly specialised and highly expensive medical advances and the rationing of care.”

Looking Back Looking Forward