Health and Medicine

There have been many great advances in medical science in the last 100 years. Surprisingly, perhaps, some equipment has changed very little over time and people often look back to earlier treatments with a view to apply them in the present day.

Today if we need medicine, we go to a pharmacy or dispensing chemist. In the past, people would have gone to an apothecary or druggist to buy remedies made in small workshops from plants. Today most drugs are made in factories from chemicals. Some of the chemicals were originally found in plants. For example, the chemical that is in aspirin is found in the bark of willow trees.

One of the most important medical discoveries of the 20th century were antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat diseases caused by bacteria. The first antibiotic produced was penicillin. It is made from a mould called penicillin. Penicillin was first produced in the 1940s. In the past many people died from diseases that can now be easily treated with antibiotics. In the first half of the 20th century children with tonsillitis often had their tonsils removed. Antibiotics can treat tonsillitis so now there are fewer tonsil operations performed.

Doctors once believed that sick people might have too much blood or the wrong things in their blood. They treated people by allowing leeches to drink their blood. Leeches look a bit like slugs. It is a long time since leeches were used in this way but now they are used in specialist surgery for clearing blood clots and helping new blood vessels grow.

The National Health Service was formed in 1948. Before this if you needed to see a doctor you had to pay. Many people were members of Friendly Societies. By paying small sums to the society every week a member was entitled to receive money when in need. This would help cover the cost of a doctor's care.

Medicine Case Pills


  1. Many diseases caused by viruses can now be prevented by vaccinations. Do you know which diseases you have been vaccinated against? Try to find out.
  2. Although some medical treatments today use very new technology, some medical instruments used have changed little over the past 100 years. Look at the timelines. Can you find any examples of equipment that has been in use for a long time?
  3. The National Health Service has existed since 1948. In Victorian times many people had very little money. What do you think it would have been like for people at this time who became ill or were injured? Do you think medical care was equally available to everyone?