The NHS at 65   

6 July 2013

Aneurin Bevan visiting a hospital on the first day of the NHS in 1948

5th July 1948 was the launch day for the then brave new world of the National Health Service throughout the UK. 

Aneurin Bevan MP, the Health and Housing Minister in Labour's ground breaking post war government, is pictured on the founding day in a hospital.

65 years later the NHS is uniquely appreciated as British creation and a uniquely powerful engine of social justice; one of the most enduring reforms from that period.

My maternal grandmother told me that, before the advent of the NHS, she tried to keep a ten shilling bank note (50p) in an envelope behind the clock on her mantelpiece to cover the cost of calling the Doctor.

Of course pre 1948, ten shillings was a very significant sum of money and if you didn't have it a barrier to accessing healthcare.

Interestingly, Bevan's vision for the National Health Service contains a recognition of the importance of early intervention and preventative spend which remains a priority of significance nationally and locally.

He was also was clearly aware of the compromises to health and welfare from health care that was not free at the point of use.

"Preventable pain is a blot on any society.

“Much sickness and often permanent disability arise from failure to take early action, and this in its turn is due to high costs and the fear of the effects of heavy bills on the family.

“The records show that it is the mother in the average family who suffers most from the absence of a free health service.

“In trying to balance her domestic budget she puts her own needs last.

Society becomes more wholesome, more serene, and spiritually healthier, if it knows that its citizens have at the back of their consciousness the knowledge that not only themselves, but all their fellows, have access, when ill, to the best that medical skill can provide.

“But private charity and endowment, although inescapably essential at one time, cannot meet the cost of all this.

“If the job is to be done, the state must accept financial responsibility." 
(from Bevan 1953 In Place of Fear, Chapter 5)