The National Health Service is turning 70 on 5 July 2018. Ever since its creation, the NHS has been one of the most debated, loved and scrutinised institutions at home and abroad. To mark this significant milestone, broadcasters and commentators have been exploring the history and future of the service, which for better or worse, remains at the heart of public life in Britain today.
As an organisation, it is easy to take the NHS for granted, as it can feel as though it has always been in our lives. For me, like most Brits, it has. I was born under the NHS and it has supported me, my family and my friends all my life. However, this wasn’t always the case.
As part of a three-part series, celebrating 70 years of the NHS, Onyx Health will explore how the NHS was born, what it has achieved and what’s next.
The NHS was born from a ground-breaking post-war ‘social experiment’. It was founded on the fundamental principle that healthcare would be free at the point of access.
The story of the NHS has its roots back as early as 1942. Sir William Beveridge, a prominent government economist, was commissioned to write a report on social policy to advise how Britain should rebuild after World War II.
In his report, Beveridge identified society’s five “Great Evils”, namely: want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. He proposed a revolutionary form of government organisation, with an ambitious system of social security designed to set new standards for citizen welfare, a system we now call ‘the welfare state’.
A key component of this report was a National Health Service paid for by taxation; this was shared among the armed forces at the height of the war and gave hope to many of a better life when they returned home.
In 1945, as World War II was reaching its conclusion, Labour achieved a shock election victory, ousting Winston Churchill as prime minister with the relatively unknown Labour leader Clement Attlee.
Labour won the election with a manifesto drawing directly on the Beveridge Report. It promised a National Health Service that would make healthcare available to those who had previously been unable to afford it.
Once elected, Labour’s Minister for Health, Nye Bevan, was tasked with leading its creation. Bevan’s background as a Welsh miner and staunch trade unionist, fuelled his passion to make the NHS a reality.
Bevan initially faced strong opposition from both Labour and Conservative MPs, as well as from the British Medical Association. He eventually won over the detractors and in 1946 the National Health Service Act was passed, paving the way for the NHS to be launched on 5 July 1948.
Today, the NHS is one of the world’s largest employers with 1.7 million employees and NHS England deals with around 463 patients every minute.
This background was taken from the BBC Radio 2.
The NHS continues to attract a great deal of attention and is consistently one of the most debated political discussions during a UK election.
Despite all its achievements, some argue it is struggling to serve societal challenges it wasn’t built to address. When the NHS was launched in 1948, it had a budget of £437 million (roughly £15 billion at today’s value) – for 2015/16, the overall NHS budget was around £116.4 billion (source: NHS Choices) with NHS England expecting to receive an extra £20bn funding a year by 2023, as recently announced by Theresa May (funded by tax rises).
Some experts believe more money is needed to maintain the level of healthcare we have become accustomed to, but an increase could put pressure on other public services. Others argue the NHS needs to change to a model where patients are charged for some treatments, especially where patients have made poor lifestyle choices, but who would determine if a condition was caused by unhealthy behaviour?
Another viewpoint is that the NHS requires a more radical change with private healthcare in the mix, however this raises questions for those on lower incomes. A fully privatised healthcare service would drastically reduce public spending, however there is no guarantee that patient care would be improved.
The NHS was built for a war weary nation, yet today it remains every bit as important as it was 70 years ago.