Happy birthday, NHS!
Today marks 75 years since the National Health Service was founded, and what a remarkable achievement it is. The NHS has been at the forefront of saving those who suffer from a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).
SCA is when the heart stops beating unexpectedly, usually due to a problem with the electrical signals that control the heart rhythm. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime, and without immediate treatment, it is almost always fatal.
But thanks to the NHS, many people who experience SCA have a chance to survive and recover. The NHS has been involved in and impacted by some of the most groundbreaking innovations and discoveries in the field of resuscitation, many of which originated right here in the UK.
For example, did you know that beta-blockers, a class of drugs that lower blood pressure and prevent heart attacks, were first developed by Sir James Black, a Scottish pharmacologist who worked at Imperial Chemical Industries and later at King’s College London? Beta-blockers are now widely used to treat people who have had a cardiac arrest or are at risk of having one.
Or how about the portable defibrillator, a device that delivers an electric shock to restart the heart of someone in cardiac arrest? This lifesaving invention was pioneered by Dr Frank Pantridge, a cardiologist from Northern Ireland who worked at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. He came up with the idea of putting a defibrillator in an ambulance after witnessing many patients dying before they reached the hospital. His first prototype was installed in a Belfast ambulance in 1965, and since then, portable defibrillators have become standard equipment in emergency vehicles and public places worldwide.
Another British hero of resuscitation is Professor Douglas Chamberlain, who is widely regarded as the father of modern paramedic services. He was instrumental in setting up the first paramedic training programme in Brighton in 1974, which taught ambulance staff how to perform advanced life support skills such as intubation, ventilation and drug administration. He also advocated for the widespread availability of public access defibrillators (PADs), which are now found in many locations such as airports, shopping centres and train stations.
The NHS has also been at the cutting edge of surgical interventions for cardiac arrest survivors, such as coronary angiography and percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). These procedures involve inserting a thin tube into an artery and using X-rays to locate and treat any blockages that may have caused or contributed to the cardiac arrest
These are examples of how the NHS has been involved in and impacted by resuscitation research and practice over the past 75 years. Of course, none of this would be possible without the dedication and expertise of the NHS staff working tirelessly to save lives daily. From paramedics to nurses, doctors to researchers, technicians to educators, they are all heroes in our eyes.
As survivors of SCA, we are immensely grateful for the NHS and all it has done for us and our fellow survivors. We acknowledge that it has its struggles and challenges, but we also recognise that we would not be here today without it. The NHS has given us a second chance at life; we do not take that for granted.
The NHS has also helped us live longer and healthier lives than ever before. The average life expectancy in the UK has increased from 66 years in 1948 to 81 years in 2020, thanks to improvements in public health, prevention and treatment of diseases. We are lucky to be around today and benefit from the great work the NHS is and will continue to do.
So happy birthday, NHS! You are truly a national treasure, and we salute you. Here’s to another 75 years of saving lives through resuscitation!
After our first meet-up in February 2015, I realised I was not alone. It was the first time since my cardiac arrest the previous year that I had spoken face-to-face with someone who had experienced what I had. This was also true for my wife, who also happened to be my lifesaver. From that meet-up, the idea of SCA UK was born. Since then, we have achieved a considerable amount, primarily providing information, resources and support to others in a similar situation but also raising the profile of survivorship and the need for better post-discharge care. We are starting to get traction in this, and with the formation of the charity, I genuinely believe we have a bright future ahead and will make a significant difference in the lives of many who join our ranks.