The birth of the National Health Service on July 5th 1948 is a landmark moment in British history. Its creation would have ramifications for the entire country and impact society at every level. The concept of a free, comprehensive health service was of particular significance to industrial, working-class communities that had long struggled to afford insurance and medical fees. For those that lived through it, the contrast was tangible. The number of pamphlets, documents and books on the NHS that have been collected by, or donated to, the Miners’ Library over the years is a testament to its significance among the industrial communities of South Wales.
As the country approached nationalisation, a number of guides were produced that attempted to explain these complex changes to a public still adjusting to post-war life. They briefly documented the history of the upcoming Act, usually mentioning the recommendations of the Beveridge Report in 1942 as key moment in the journey towards universal healthcare. Foreseeing potential complications, The Socialist Medical Association published ‘Control of the Health Services‘ in 1945. They, unsurprisingly, welcomed the possibility of a national health service but argued for the proper consultation of health workers during the implementation process.
The News Chronicle published their ‘Guide to The National Health Service Act‘, by barrister T.S. Newman, which helpfully summarised the provisions, services and timeline of the new system. Another helpful pamphlet, A Guide to the National Health Service Act 1946, had its foreword written by the architect of the NHS himself, Aneurin Bevan. He writes:
We have just passed through Parliament the greatest single health-service measure of our history. We are facing, at this moment, the monumental task of putting it into operation.
The message is clear: this is a watershed moment that has huge practical, as well as ideological, implications. The pamphlet, by Hilde Fitzgerald, goes on to describe the present situation for healthcare: a mish-mash of charitable and paid services with the level of quality measured by the affluence of the local community. The guide describes the new structure, which involves the Minister of Health appointing Regional Boards who will set up Management Committees to run the individual hospitals. A diagram at the back of the pamphlet outlines the desired structure:
Following the implementation of the NHS, our holdings chart its development and the moments of progress and tension as it continued throughout the twentieth century. The introduction of prescription charges in the 1950s caused particular consternation, and the Socialist Medical Association’s pamphlet, arguing against it and asking for a petition signature, demonstrates the battles that have been fought since the very beginning. Similarly, our pamphlets from the 1970s, 1980s and onward (such as Defending the NHS) highlight that, as the NHS become entrenched as an institution, it was utilised as a political tool by subsequent governments.
The NHS is often recognised as one of Britain’s greatest achievements. Its impact and significance cannot be understated, but that is especially true for the working-class communities that, often for the first time in their lives, did not have to worry about paying for their healthcare. This sense of a genuine democratic service is reflected in Stephen Taylor’s ‘Labour Discussion Series’ pamphlet entitled National Health Service. The physician and MP introduced his work by writing:
The Labour Government’s National Health Service Bill is neither the beginning nor the end of the job of building a real national health service for Britain. But in this job it is the most important step we have taken so far. It is a step which will only be successful if it is backed up everywhere by a well-informed and enthusiastic public. This is going to be our health service. Each one of us will at some time make use of it. Each of us will be able to have our say in how it is run. For this service will be made and moulded by public opinion.
For more information about our NHS related holdings, or the biographies in our main collection on Aneurin Bevan, please get in touch.