NHS Birthday

70 Years of the NHS through Pager Evolution

After three score years and ten, the NHS now celebrates 70 years of protecting the nation. There has not been a time that most of us have not needed the NHS, and during much of this period the NHS has relied on the simple pager.

1956: The first pagers were introduced at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London.  Developed by Multitone, they replaced a complex system of coloured lights and bells, using an induction loop system (similar to some modern hearing aids). The bleeps located doctors instantly and unobtrusively in the hospital.

1960s: Pagers evolved to use HF and UHF radio frequencies, allowing for improved coverage and more complex data messaging.  Plus, we saw the flashing light return as discreet / silent mode for paging staff at night or during patient consultations.

1970s: Introduction of digital technology allowed for more users on the system and enhanced reliability. Plus, new speech functionality for emergencies, speeding up important messaging from the operators to staff.  Smaller surface mounted components allowed pagers to become smaller.

1980s/1990s: Scrolling text displays were introduced, with either live or pre-programmed response messages, along with improved speech capabilities – providing more detailed and time/lifesaving instructions.

21st Century: Continued evolution – two-way pagers with improved screens offer greater flexibility in communications. Modern pagers continue to use a private network for message security and reliability, but this network works as part of the overall unified communications mix.

Specific benefits

Despite the popularity of smartphones and tablets, pagers remain essential for the NHS – a highly reliable  independent system with wide coverage that’s perfectly tailored to healthcare needs.

  • Guaranteed delivery for critical messages
  • Simple easy to read screen
  • Easy to carry and unobtrusive
  • Long battery life
  • Tough
  • Low cost


Whilst the principles of pagers remain the same as over 60 years ago, evolved operator-end systems can now message them via almost any device; phone, computer, fire & security alarm, medical fridge alarms, patient machine monitors or even robots.

As NHS communications continue to evolve, pagers will undoubtedly be part of the wider communications mix. A blend of pagers’ high-level reliability, with smartphone app technology (including social media like WhatsApp, but ideally dedicated and secure healthcare apps), makes collaborative working and team management even easier.

Whilst some conservative estimates suggest the NHS uses 10% of worldwide pagers (it seems highly likely there are far more in use globally!) it’s very clear that they are an essential tool for this outstanding organisation.