University of Leeds celebrates 75 years of the NHS

The NHS is 75 years old today – and University of Leeds staff and alumni have honoured the milestone by describing what the much-loved institution means to them.

Those celebrating include one of the NHS’s first female doctors; a professor whose drug discovery has saved millions of lives, and a stage three bowel cancer survivor who now chairs a national patient liaison group for cancer research.  

Dr Freda May Cox, who celebrated her 100th birthday on 8 June, spoke about her life as an NHS doctor in a video recorded to celebrate the milestone. 

After her studies at Leeds Medical School, Dr Cox qualified as a doctor in July 1948, 25 days after the creation of the NHS. She said that it was difficult working as a female doctor at first, because women were supposed to be nurses. 

Working mainly in child health, she fitted thousands of children with hearing aids. She said: “I helped a lot of children that couldn’t hear. A lot of them came to the children’s hospital at Bradford. I felt proud of being in the NHS.” 

Professor David Sebag Montefiore, Academic Clinical Oncologist at Leeds and an honorary Clinical Oncologist at Leeds Cancer Centre, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, has been treating cancer patients in the NHS for 40 years. 

He said: “The NHS has been a very special part of my life. For me, it’s all about people. Looking after patients, and their families, and working as teams, with dedicated, outstanding staff, to make a difference for patients. It has also been fantastic to see the progress we’ve made through our research that’s transformed the lives of patients in Leeds, Yorkshire and beyond.”  

Science historian Dr Kersten Hall, Visiting Fellow in the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, completed his PhD in molecular biology at the University of Leeds in 1993. Dr Hall, who has Type 1 diabetes, said: “What does the NHS mean to me? Two things. The sensor patch that I wear in my arm to measure my blood glucose, and the insulin pen that I have to inject myself with about four times a day. Without the patch, life is difficult to manage. Without the pen, I’d be dead. That’s what the NHS means to me.”  

Supporting NHS 75

Also marking the occasion are Professor Craig Jordan OBE, Benjamin Cowell and Peter Wheatstone.

Professor Jordan, the ‘father of Tamoxifen’, developed the chemotherapy into one of the most important drugs in medical oncology during his time studying at the University of Leeds. Thanks to his work, Tamoxifen is used around the world to help some people reduce their risk of breast cancer by more than 50%. 

He credits a huge part of his success to the care his mother received from the NHS when he was a child, after she became seriously ill. He said: “The NHS saved her life, and what I’ve been able to do in my work of medicine has saved millions of women’s lives around the world. Thank you NHS.” 

Peter Wheatstone, Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement Group chairman for the University of Leeds-led FOxTROT bowel cancer trial and bowel cancer survivor, said: “As I’ve experienced treatment through the NHS, I've become simply amazed at the dedication of staff who offer treatment in all sorts of circumstances, as well as getting involved in research as part of their role. I’m so grateful for the care that I received through the NHS when I was ill.” 

And Benjamin Cowell, Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust Legal Services Manager and Leeds graduate, added: “I'm really, really proud to work for the NHS. It's an absolute institution, it's a role model on the global scale and it needs to be protected at all costs.”

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