Just after midnight 70 years ago today (July 5th), the first baby on the UK’s National Health Service was born. Aneira Thomas’ mother had already been in labour for 18 hours as midnight approached. Although she was ready to deliver her baby, she was told to hold off. If the baby was born after midnight, the new NHS meant that the delivery would be free – and avoiding hefty pre-NHS charges for childbirth was enough of an incentive for Mrs Thomas to wait just a little longer.
As a mother who has given birth to two daughters in NHS hospitals, the story of Aneira is one I – as well as millions of women around the UK – can relate to. The availability of healthcare facilities, which were clean and well-equipped, with specialist, dedicated staff to support me, meant that my daughters and I came through the experience happy and healthy. And like Aneira Thomas’ mother, there was no hefty bill to pay at the end of it.
Millions of other expectant mothers, however, do not have this reassurance. For many living in some of the world’s poorest countries, access to even the most basic maternal medical care is unavailable. The cost of accessing services can be prohibitive, with the high price-tag of birth preventing many expectant mothers from being able to seek medical support. It is women in developing countries who are affected the most. According to the World Health Organisation, 99% of maternal deaths occur in the world’s poorest countries, and 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day.
But progress is happening. Between 1990 and 2014, the proportion of women dying giving birth fell by 44% – a real achievement. The UK has played a key role in this, using learning from our excellent, 70- year-old NHS to support safe deliveries around the world. We’ve supported 5.6 million women to give birth safely between 2011 and 2015 by ensuring that skilled staff were present, and saved a total of 103,000 mothers’ lives. That is a lot of happy, healthy mothers whose fate could otherwise have been very different.
I’m grateful for the support the NHS gave me in bringing two healthy daughters into the world. And I’m grateful to UK aid, for helping to ensure millions of women around the world can do the same. Between them, the NHS and UKAid support millions of people in need, and create a fairer, healthier world for everyone – something we can be really proud of. Happy Birthday, NHS.