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Key events in the history of nursing and the NHS

Nursing and the NHS: A brief history of the key events

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nhs logo

nhs logo

To help celebrate the 70th birthday of the NHS, we have created a pathway looking at some of the key events in nursing and healthcare that have taken place since 1948.



Aneurin Bevan

Aneurin Bevan

Aneurin Bevan

5 July 1948: the National Health Service is launched at Park Hospital in Manchester (now known as Trafford General Hospital).

The new NHS took control of 480,000 hospital beds in England and Wales, while an estimated 125,000 nurses and 5,000 consultants were available to care for hospital patients.

However, there was also an estimated shortage of 48,000 nurses.



1950s: A large influx of nurses from the Caribbean starts to join the NHS workforce, as part of the so-called “Windrush” generation.

1950s: Introduction of tranquillisers transforms mental health nursing.

Empire Windrush

Empire Windrush

Empire Windrush

1951: Male nurses are merged into the main General Nursing Council register.

1956: The first nursing studies unit in the UK is established at the University of Edinburgh.

1959: The Mental Health Act 1959 abolishes the legal distinction between psychiatric and other hospitals.



1960: The first UK kidney transplant takes place at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary

NHS Lothian

Scottish NHS violence reduction project to be extended

Source: Lisa Jarvis

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary

1962: Health minister Enoch Powell publishes the Hospital Plan for England and Wales. At its heart is the district general hospital, designed to provide a comprehensive range of inpatient and outpatient services to populations of 100,000 to 150,000.

1966: The Salmon report paves the way for a new nurse grading structure, heralding the end of the old matron title and meaning every hospital would have a chief nursing officer.

1967: Nurse Dame Cicely Saunders sets up the first hospice.

1967: Termination of pregnancy becomes legal under the Abortion Act 1967.

1968: Surgeon Donald Ross carries out Britain’s first heart transplant at the National Heart Hospital in Marylebone, London, on 3 May



1972: The Briggs report conclude that basic nurse training should be provided in clinical settings.

NHS England

Record cancer survival rates mean NHS care ‘has never been better’

Preparing patient for CT scan

1972: The first computerised tomography (CT) scanners are introduced in the NHS, revolutionising how the body can be examined.

1975: A Royal Commission on the NHS was set up to consider the “best use and management of the financial and manpower resources of the NHS”. Reporting in 1979, it recommended a simplification in the administration of the service.

1974: Jean McFarlane became the first professor of nursing at an English university. She held the position at the University of Manchester until 1989.



1983: The NHS Pay Review Body starts recommending national pay awards for nurses and other health service staff.

1983: The Griffiths report calls for the appointment of general managers in the NHS and also recommends that clinicians should be more closely involved in the management process.

1983: The United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting is set up, replacing the General Nursing Council for England and Wales.

1988: Routine Breast screening for women over the age of 50 starts, with breast screening units around the country providing free mammograms.



1990: Nurse education undergoes a revolution with the advent of Project 2000. The new system ushers in supernumerary status for students, a non-means-tested bursary and an education focus on academic preparation over clinical experience.

Nurse working phone

Nurse working phone

1991: The first NHS Trusts are established to make the service more responsive to the user at a local level. There are 57 in total.

1994: The NHS Organ Donor Register launches in October 1994

1998: The nurse-led advice line NHS Direct launches across England and Wales, followed in 2001 in Scotland by NHS 24. NHS Direct is controversially replaced in 2014 by NHS 111.

1999: The National Institute for Clinical Excellence – better known as NICE – is set up to reduce variation in the availability and quality of NHS treatments and care.



2000: The NHS Plan is published for England by the Labour government. Among other things the 10-year plan promises 20,000 extra nurses, over 100 new hospitals and 7,000 extra beds. Controversially, it also leads to more private sector involvement in NHS service provision.

nmc building

nmc building

NMC, Portland Place

2002: The Nursing and Midwifery Council was created, replacing the UKCC.

2002: Primary care trusts are set up to try and improve the administration and delivery of healthcare at a local level.

2004: The Agenda for Change contract comes into force, covering more than one million people. It harmonises pay bands and career progression across traditionally separate staff groups, in the most radical change since the NHS was founded.

2008: The Darzi review is published with the aim of shifting the emphasis of the NHS from increasing the quantity of care to improving its clinical quality.

2009: Gordon Brown launches the Prime Minister’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery, with the aim of helping put nurses more in control of services and the direction of policy.



Francis report image

Francis report

Francis report

2012: Andrew Lansley’s controversial Health and Social Care Act is passed, replacing PCTs with clinical commissioning groups that give GPs power over funding local services.

2013: The hard-hitting Francis report is published on the care scandal at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, making 290 recommendations.

2014: The NHS Five Year Forward View is published by NHS England. It set out a future vision of the NHS based around the new models of care. An update is published in 2017.

2014: The first strike over NHS pay in 32 years is held by nurses. Midwives also strike for the first time. The action follows a government decision not to introduce a 1% blanket pay increase for all NHS staff against a backdrop of increasing financial difficulties.

NHS staff on picket line

NHS staff on strike

NHS staff on strike

2016: The number of nurses and midwives on the NMC’s register reaches a peak of 692,556 in March, before beginning to fall. It has previously increased in size year on year since 2013.

2016: Following the European Union referendum, nurse applicants from countries in Europe crash by 96% due to uncertainty around Brexit.

2017: The Conservative government abolishes the student nurse bursary in England, sparking a 23% fall in the number of applicants to nursing degree courses.

2017: The first group of 1,000 trainee nursing associates begin two-year programmes, marking the government’s creation of a new bridging role between healthcare assistants and nurses.

Nursing Times

Nursing Times NHS 70

Nursing Times NHS 70th birthday, July 2018

2018: Unions accept a 6.5% pay rise over three years in England and a 9% rise in Scotland.

2018: Prime minister Theresa May promises a new 10-year plan for the NHS and says it will receive an average 3.4% funding increase annually from 2019-20 to 2023-24.

5 July 2018: The NHS celebrates its 70th birthday and a major nurse recruitment campaign is launched.

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