The NHS came to life on 5 July 1948.
Aneurin Bevan visits Park Hospital, Davyhulme, Manchester on 'Day 1' of the National Health Service, 5 July 1948
It was an historic moment in British history, a culmination of a bold and pioneering plan to make healthcare no longer exclusive to those who could afford it but to make it accessible to everyone.
In the UK today, at 5pm BST there will be a national show of gratitude, with the loudest thank you clap yet for all the workers and volunteers who have contributed during the crisis. And afterwards, neighbours are encouraged to connect with a drink or a chat.
If you are in the UK, it's easy to get involved; just be ready to get clapping and maybe banging some pots or pans at 5pm on Sunday.
The National Health Service, abbreviated to NHS, was launched by the then Minister of Health in Attlee’s post-war government, Aneurin Bevan, at the Park Hospital in Manchester.
The motivation to provide a good, strong and reliable healthcare to all was finally taking its first tentative steps.
It was the first time anywhere in the world that completely free healthcare was made available on the basis of citizenship rather than the payment of fees or insurance.
It brought hospitals, doctors, nurses and dentists together under one service.
Origins of the NHS
According to the House of Commons library:
"The establishment of the NHS was the culmination of attempts by the British State to provide healthcare services to its citizens for at least a century, and arguably even longer."
Beatrice Webb, social reformer and founding member of the Fabian Society, is often credited with the original conception of a comprehensive health service provided by the state, in her Minority Report of 1909 to the Royal Commission on the Poor Law. In this, she advocated the creation of a ‘public medical service’, or a ‘state medical service’.
Over the following decades, various studies recommended the improvement of health service provision in the UK. There were even suggestions in the 1920s that a new service might have to be funded from general taxation, rather than by an insurance-based model, and the idea of comprehensive and universal health provision, free of charge, gained traction.
In 1934 it became the official policy of the Labour Party, and in June 1942, a British Medical Association draft interim report proposed large regional councils running hospitals, in which consultants would be salaried.
There was, therefore, what the health policy academic Rudolf Klein called a ‘sedimentary consensus’, building over several decades, that some kind of ‘comprehensive’ and universally applied health service should be introduced."
In his famous 1942 report, Social Insurance and Allied Services, William Beveridge proposed the creation of‘Comprehensive health and rehabilitation services for prevention and cure of disease and restoration of capacity for work, available to all members of the community.’”
This should, Beveridge suggested:
* Ensure medical treatment for ‘every citizen’
* Be organised by ‘Departments responsible for the health of the people’
*‘Be provided where needed without contribution conditions’ as ‘[r]estoration of a sick person to health is a duty of the State and the sick person’.
The Conservative Opposition voted against both Second and Third readings of the National Health Service Bill when it came before the House of Commons in 1946. They were wary of attempts to end local ownership of hospitals, and were opposed to any notion of a full-time salaried service.
Conservative politicians, nevertheless, made it clear that they did not oppose the principle of a ‘comprehensive health service’, and put such a declaration in their Reasoned Amendments.
On the ‘Appointed Day’, however, the new service was introduced as “the most civilised thing in the world,” as Bevan termed it, owing to its focus on the “welfare of the sick”. In the estimation of Rudolf Klein, it was ‘the first health system in any Western society to offer free medical care to the entire population’. Supported by almost all British politicians and parties since, it remains with us 70 years on.
With thanks to the House of Commons Library
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