Page last updated at 23:20 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 00:20 UK

Sixty years of the Scottish NHS

By Eleanor Bradford
Health correspondent, BBC Scotland

This summer, the NHS turns 60.

Most of us have never known life without it. It's easy to forget the dramatic impact it had after its creation in 1948.

Ultrasound
Experiments in the 1960s led to the creation of ultrasound

Since then Scottish pioneers have shaped health services in the UK and around the world.

Prior to 1948 many hospitals relied on charity and nurses regularly went onto the streets with collecting tins.

Even the GP charged for his services, and it was common for working men to strap up their hernias rather than pay for treatment.

The idea of a "free" health service had been pioneered in the 1930s for crofters in the Highlands and Islands. That concept was then rolled out nationwide.

Hugh Conway was a medic on Juno Beach during the D-Day landings. After the war, he remembers the introduction of the NHS on 5 July 1948.

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Dr Hugh Conway says GPs were 'overwhelmed' with work

As well as free hospital treatment and GP visits, for the first time people didn't have to pay for costly dental treatment, hearing aids and sight tests. One in 10 Scots got new spectacles.

But the biggest problem facing the NHS was disease, and one disease in particular: tuberculosis.

In the 1950s it was the most common cause of death in young adults. Half of those who contracted TB died.

The countryside was peppered with more than 100 hospitals and sanatoriums, and one in Lanarkshire treated a very famous patient - author George Orwell.

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Prof Jimmy Williamson remembers treating George Orwell

In the 1950s, a team of scientists led by Sir John Crofton in Edinburgh found a complete cure for TB by using a combination of three antibiotics. The general use of antibiotics, along with better living standards, dramatically reduced infectious disease.

During the 1960s two doctors and a young engineer from Glasgow were experimenting with a machine used to detect flaws in metal in the shipbuilding industry.

They wanted to know if it could tell them what was going on inside the human body.

The invention would become known as "ultrasound".

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Engineer Tom Brown on 'scrounging' equipment in the early days of the NHS

During this decade the NHS also had to plan for disaster. Few people today remember the secret role of the Vale of Leven hospital in Alexandria: it was to be the main emergency centre in the event of nuclear war.

Former Vale of Leven superintendent Dr William Thomson said: "It was thought that the targets for the atom bomb would be industrial cities, and that one would be dropped in Glasgow.

"They thought that the west end of Glasgow would be affected mainly.

"The theory at the time was that those who survived would escape to the shores of Loch Lomond, believe it or not, so the Ministry of Defence thought it would be a good idea to build a hospital here to accommodate the refugees from the west end of Glasgow."

One Scot who came to have a very big impact on the direction of the NHS in England owes his sight to the pioneering work of surgeons at Edinburgh's old Royal Infirmary.

In 1967, Gordon Brown was kicked in the head during a rugby match, blinding him in one eye and threatening the sight in the other.

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Prime Minister Gordon Brown remembers trolleys serving Guinness being wheeled around wards

The NHS is now more advanced and more expensive than its original founders could ever have anticipated.

Some people question whether it can keep going. Perhaps the bigger question, though, is what would life be like without it?

You can see more in Pills, Potions and Patients: Scotland's NHS at 60 on BBC Two Scotland at 2100 BST on Friday.


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