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Celebrating 75 years of the NHS

July 7, 2023
Celebrating 75 years of the NHS
July 7, 2023

This week, the National Health Service (NHS) celebrated its 75th birthday – a huge milestone for something that was as life-changing as it was life-saving when it was introduced back in 1948. The NHS transformed healthcare for Brits when it was rolled out by Aneurin Bevan, Labour’s health secretary at the time, offering medical treatment based on clinical need, rather than the ability to pay. 


The NHS Constitution describes the NHS as belonging to the people and providing ‘a comprehensive service, available to all irrespective of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, or marital or civil partnership status.’  And 75 years on, it still enables anyone who needs to see a doctor, free appointments.


However, over time, a growing and ageing population, not to mention a once-in-a-generation pandemic has put pressure on the NHS. Waiting times are at an all-time high and you may not always get a GP or hospital appointment as quickly as you may like. 


But it’s not all doom and gloom, says GP and ZoomDoc Chief Medical Officer, Dr Kenny Livingstone. 

‘These days there are also services that aim to take the strain off the NHS, such as health apps and affordable private options. That doesn’t mean not using NHS services, but understanding how to use it, rather than abuse it, will certainly help the NHS carry on for another 75 years,’ he says.


With that in mind, here’s how to navigate healthcare in the UK, right now, so you can get seen by the right person without wasting your time, or a doctor’s.


Seeing a GP


You should be able to book or change an appointment at your GP surgery.


GPs are your first point of contact if something is non-urgent, in other words an illness, unusual lump or something you’re concerned about and want to get checked out. GP practices will try to arrange a same-day appointment for anything considered urgent within this.

‘For instance, if your symptoms aren’t improving or are worsening, it’s pregnancy-related or you require prescribed medication,’ says GP and ZoomDoc Chief Medical Officer, Dr Kenny Livingstone.

‘The best thing to do is to tell the receptionist what’s the matter and let them try to fit you in based on your symptoms or needs. They’re not being nosey and will help fit you in where they can,’ he says.

If you can’t make an appointment, make sure you cancel it – even if it happens to be short notice as there will always be someone else who can get there last-minute.


Did you know?


Get better, quicker Instant access to our expert UK trained GPs with our on-call Doctor app.


If you’re really struggling to get an appointment to suit you, ZoomDoc offers a private GP service where from just £35 you can speak to a doctor at a time to suit you, without leaving the house.

And sometimes you may think you need to see a doctor but you actually don’t. For instance, for medical letters such as GP referrals, ‘Fit To Fly’ letters or Allergy certificates.


‘Although these are available from your NHS GP, there is a charge for them so why not save your time and avoid wasting an appointment by ordering it online via ZoomDoc,’ says Dr Kenny, who estimates millions of NHS appointments are being taken up by patients unaware they can get sick notes and more medical letters without trips to the doctor – once to get it and twice to go back and collect it at a later date.


Read more about when to see a GP and when not to


Calling 111


NHS 111 will direct you to the best place to get help if you cannot contact your GP.


The NHS 111 service is relatively new, only being introduced in 2011 to help take pressure off emergency care (A&E). It’s a free phone number that gets you advice and medical assistance when something is more urgent, or when your GP practice is closed (such as evenings, or weekends). 


According to the NHS website, ‘111 helps people get the right advice and treatment when they urgently need it.’ 


It can either put you in contact with a doctor, nurse, paramedic or pharmacist – or get you an appointment at your nearest A&E, urgent treatment centre or out-of-hours GP.


The NHS adds that, ‘in many cases NHS 111 clinicians and call advisors can give patients the advice they need without using another service such as their GP or A&E.’

You can call 111 any time of day or night, 7 days a week. You can also use it online, via 



Attending Urgent Treatment Centres


UTCs are GP-led, are equipped to diagnose and deal with many of the most common ailments people attend A&E


Urgent treatment centres (UTCs) have replaced minor injury units, urgent care centres and walk-in centres, bridging the gap between GPs and A&E departments and of course, helping to relieve the pressure. 


Although they’re open longer hours as well as 7 days a week, you’ll usually need a GP or 111-referral to get an appointment. 


If you have an urgent medical problem or injury that’s not life-threatening (such as sprains, strains, suspected broken bones, minor head injuries, cuts that need stitches, x-rays) , call 111 who will assess you and refer you or book you into your nearest UTC. 


Going to A&E


A&E (accident and emergency) is for serious injuries and life-threatening emergencies only.


Strictly speaking, you should only go to your Accident and Emergency department (A&E) for something that is very serious, such as breathing difficulties, chest pain, life-threatening injuries or a loss of consciousness. 

That’s according to information from the Royal Free hospital and Barnet hospital, whose A&E departments get extremely busy. It asks patients to ‘only come to A&E if you need immediate care for something that is very serious or life-threatening so that we can focus on patients who need it most.


If you’re unsure, just contact 111 or visit 111.nhs.uk. If you do need to go to A&E you can find your nearest A&E here.


Phoning an ambulance

We all know to call 999 in an emergency, but what actually counts as an emergency?

The NHS says examples of life-threatening and therefore ambulance-call worthy conditions are:

  • signs of a heart attack ie. chest pain, pressure, heaviness, tightness or squeezing across the chest
  • signs of a stroke ie. face dropping on one side, cannot hold both arms up, difficulty speaking
  • sudden confusion (delirium)cannot be sure of own name or age
  • suicide attempt by taking something or self-harming
  • severe difficulty breathing not being able to get words out, choking or gasping
  • Choking on liquids or solids right now
  • heavy bleeding spraying, pouring or enough to make a puddle
  • severe injuries after a serious accident or assault
  • seizure (fit) – shaking or jerking because of a fit, or unconscious (cannot be woken up)
  • sudden, rapid swelling of the lips, mouth, throat or tongue.


For children, always call 999 for the following symptoms, which differ slightly from adults:

  • seizure (fit) shaking or jerking because of a fit, or unconscious (cannot be woken up)
  • choking on liquids or solids right now
  • difficulty breathing, making grunting noises or sucking their stomach in under their ribcage
  • unable to stay awake – cannot keep their eyes open for more than a few seconds
  • blue, grey, pale or blotchy skin, tongue or lips on brown or black skin, grey or blue palms or soles of the feet
  • limp and floppy their head falls to the side, backwards or forwards
  • heavy bleeding spraying, pouring or enough to make a puddle
  • severe injuries after a serious accident or assault
  • signs of a stroke ie. face dropping on one side, cannot hold both arms up, difficulty speaking
  • sudden rapid swelling of the lips, mouth, throat or tongue
  • sudden confusion agitation, odd behaviour or non-stop crying.


During particularly busy periods you may be advised to drive (or be driven) to A&E. Calling 999 doesn’t necessarily mean an ambulance will be sent.

Want to know more?

Our team of Doctors are available via the ZoomDoc App for any medical questions or queries.