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‘The creation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948 was the most important change in the treatment of illness during the twentieth century.’ Do you agree? Explain your answer. (16)
There were many factors that contributed to changing treatment of illness during the twentieth century. For instance: the creation of the National Health Service in 1948, the creation of magic bullets in the 1900s and the breakthrough of new technology.
Firstly, the National Health Service was created in 1948. Doctors, hospital, dentists, opticians, ambulances, midwives and health visitors were available, free to everybody; everyone could get free treatment. This meant that the NHS could be more effective because a wider majority of people were being treated. In contrast, before 1948 about 8 million people had never seen a doctor as they could not afford to do so. Also, the introduction of the NHS was evidently a very important change in the treatment of illness because it played an important part in increasing people’s life expectancy. In 1919, the death rate of people under the age of 44 was 23%. Whereas, in 1992 the death rate was 5% for people under the age of 44. This is solid evidence that treatment did change because if death rate lowered after the creation of the NHS then this means that it must have changed treatment in terms of that it was more effective in curing people. This was a more important factor in the change in the treatment of illness than magic bullets because magic bullets only treated people with certain diseases, whereas, the NHS has a broader range of people it can treat. However, some may argue that the breakthrough of technology was a more important factor than the NHS because technology needs to be invented in order to treat people. Yes, the NHS does give everyone free treatment but without technology (such as the x-ray machines) that effective treatment potentially couldn’t be possible.
Secondly, magic bullets also made a considerable contribution to the change in the treatment of illness. The first magic bullet was created in 1906 called salvarsan 606 by Paul Ehrlich. It was called this because it homed in on and destroyed the harmful bacteria that caused syphilis. This was the first time chemical drugs had been used to treat illness. However, it was found out that it killed the microbes but the person too, which limited its usefulness. Then prontosil was created by Gerhard Domagk in 1932. It attacked the microbes that caused blood poisoning. It was tested on mice and it killed the microbes causing blood poisoning. Then it was tried on his daughter when she pricked her finger on an infected needle and developed blood poisoning. She was the first human treated by a chemical cure. Therefore, magic bullets were effective in treating illness to an extent. For instance, scientists discovered that the important chemical in these cures was sulphonamide and drug companies then developed more of this to treat and cure diseases such as pneumonia. Thus, it can be argued that because of the fact magic bullets only targeted specific diseases, it could only treat specific people. Nevertheless, it was effective (especially prontosil) in that it evidently the chemical was found and specific diseases could be reduced. However, its usefulness is limited.
Moreover, the breakthrough on technology made a fairly large contribution to treatment of illness. One example is the invention of x-rays in 1985 by German scientist Rontgen. X-rays were quickly put into use in hospitals to help diagnose broken bones and diseases. They were especially useful in the First Would War, when the government funded x-ray machines for every major hospital on the Western Front. Thanks to x-rays (in 1950-2000) they are now used in CAT scanner, which give a 360-degree picture of a patient and this makes it easier to treat patients as the illness is identified easily and accurately. Radiotherapy was developed by polish scientist Marie Curie from rontgens x-ray research. Usually radiotherapy reduced the need for surgery and has evidently contributed to the survival of many cancer patients. This therefore, is a more important change in the treatment of illness because in the second half of the twentieth century computers revolutionised diagnosis and treatment. One can argue that it is more important than magic bullets because it can treat a wider range of people with illnesses. Especially x-rays which today play a very significant role in treatment of illness even today, whereas, magic bullets aren’t commonly used today.
Overall, I believe that both the creation of the NHS and new technology played an equally important role. Ultimately, the creation of the NHS has made a very significant contribution to treatment in that free healthcare was available to everyone, meaning everyone (rich or poor) could be treated. However, new technology such as x-ray machines contributed in the creation of radiotherapy, CAT scanners and MRI scans. It formed the basis of technology invented as it led to many advances. Without effective technology the NHS would still have had a very important input, in terms of its fairness effected many people, but with technology the change in treatment was a very large amount. Magic bullets were successful in treating specific illnesses without harming body tissue but it did not have a very important impact on a wide scale.