The NHS at 70. How will it survive the next 70 years?

06 July 2018

Award-winning health journalist Danny Buckland examines the key areas that will shape the future of health in the UK.

NHS at 70

Birthdays are a time to acknowledge the past and look to the future with hope. The NHS’s 70th celebrations are rightly toasting the remarkable achievements of an institution envied the world over.

But that party spirit can be instantly dampened by looking into its future: underfunded and under- resourced, the NHS is struggling to find a route map to guide it through the next 70 years.

Just like the society it serves, the NHS has changed through the generations, ever since 1948, when the post-war Labour government put into law a radical concept: that healthcare should be available to all, no matter what a person’s finances were.

Advances in medical science, public health and service delivery have helped UK citizens’ life expectancy increase ever since the day the NHS was founded – from 66 for men and 71 for women, to 79 for men and 83 for women in England and Wales now (ONS, 2015). Current life expectancies for men and women in Scotland are 77.1 and 81.1 (NRS, 2016), and 78.1 and 82.4 in Northern Ireland (NISRA, 2015).

However, cuts to NHS budgets, the transfer of responsibility for elements of care to cash-strapped local authorities and a polarised political approach are compromising the ability of everyone in healthcare, consultants and care assistants alike, to perform at their best.

The cracks are becoming too wide for dedicated staff to paper over, despite a recent pay settlement in England (with ongoing discussions regarding deals in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the government’s recent £20bn-a-year pledge for NHS England by 2023 (with Scotland getting a £2bn boost, Northern Ireland likely to receive £600m and Wales £1.2bn).

Strained by creeping privatisation, an ageing population living with co-morbidities and underinvestment, the NHS is under threat. Then of course, there’s Brexit.

Burning questions arise: how will the NHS survive the next 70 years, what’s needed to keep it alive and kicking, and where does public health fit into all this? We address these questions in our features on staffing and brexit, technology, and access...

Picture Credit | Mark Ward


Office of National Statistics. (2015) How has life expectancy changed over time? See: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/lifeexpectancies/articles/howhaslifeexpectancychangedovertime/2015-09-09 (accessed 12 June 2018).

National Records of Scotland. (2016) Life Expectancy for Areas within Scotland 2013-2015 See: https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/files/statistics/life-expectancy-areas-in-scotland/2013-2015/1315le.pdf (accessed 25 June 2018).

NISRA. (2015) See: www.nisra.gov.uk/sites/nisra.gov.uk/files/publications/2011-2013LE.pdf (accessed 25 June 2018)