The Red Cross and the NHS: a history of helping
As the National Health Service reaches its 72nd anniversary, we take a look back at our proud history of working in the health and social care sector
Most people know about the voluntary nurses and doctors who worked with us during the First and Second World War, but our involvement in the health and social care sector goes back further than that.
In 1870, the first Red Cross horse-drawn ambulances were used during the Franco-Prussian war. And in 1921, Red Cross volunteer Percy Lane Oliver set up the UK’s first blood collection service.
When the NHS was founded after the Second World War, we were there to help. Ensuring everyone in the UK had free access to the same level of care was an ambitious ask.
The Red Cross launched a five-year plan to help in the interim period before the new NHS system could be fully realised.
As part of this, we ran nine auxiliary hospitals with 505 beds in total, which acted as a stepping-stone between hospital and home for those ready to be discharged.
Over the decades, we also started to focus more on what we called welfare services – things that helped people’s general health and wellbeing, but which hospitals didn’t have the time or resources to focus on.
For example, inside hospitals we ran outpatient canteens and even bedside services like our hospital library trolley.
Two of our main services involved providing meals on wheels (in 1975, our volunteers in Derry-Londonderry were described as “The most wonderful ladies in the world”) and medical loans – the latter of which we still do today, providing wheelchairs and mobility aids.
In fact, we are the biggest national provider of short-term wheelchair loans – and often the only option for people who’d otherwise be facing months stuck on the sofa.
Our work in hospitals today
Exactly how the Red Cross helps within health and social care has changed a lot over the years.
Today, we still operate in the gap between home and hospital, helping over 200,000 people every year across our independent living services.
We work with each individual to offer them the personal support they need – whether it is getting them home safely and quickly, doing the shopping or help sorting out the heating.
Our services are ongoing all year round. But we can also scale up them to meet increased need or pressure – such as during the winter or, more recently, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Our volunteers also work in the A&E departments of over 20 hospitals in the UK, giving practical and emotional support to those using the department. As well as providing a sympathetic ear for patients, this eases up time for hospital staff to focus on what they do best.
Caring for others through Covid-19
In recent months, since the Covid-19 outbreak, we have had to adapt the ways we work to take into consideration quarantine and social distancing measures. In spite of this, we have helped over 12,000 people get discharged safely from hospital, made over 43,000 food and 9000 medicine deliveries, and supported over 4000 people with advice and support on our support line.
The pandemic is far from over. But as we have done for over 70 years, the Red Cross will continue to support the NHS in whatever way we can, for as long as it takes.
A helping hand
We’ve been there for people in vulnerable situations across the country for 150 years, no matter who or where they are. Click below to make sure we’ll always be there for people.Donate