Historians mark NHS at 70

It can’t have escaped your attention that the National Health Service celebrated its 70th anniversary this week. The NHS came into being on 5 July 1948. It promised universal healthcare, free at the point of use.

The story of the NHS is closely bound to the contemporary British history. So it is no surprise that this week’s anniversary had been marked by social and cultural historians.

With so much be written, we thought that it would be useful to offer an overview of our favourite posts from the week.

One of the first pieces that caught our attention was a thoughtful article by Barry Doyle (University of Huddersfield and editor of Cultural and Social History) and Rosemary Wall (University of Hull). It explains what healthcare was like before the NHS – dispelling the myth that it was all doom and gloom.

You can read the full piece here: https://theconversation.com/what-was-healthcare-like-before-the-nhs-99055

A blog on our Research Exchange by George Gosling (University of Wolverhampton) considers this issue in more depth. It asks whether histories that embrace the complexity of healthcare provision before 1948 undermine the value of the NHS.

You can read George’s conclusion here: https://socialhistory.org.uk/shs_exchange/nhs_70/

These debates depend on an understanding of what happened next. If you need an introduction to this timeline, the Wellcome Collection has put together an engaging series of materials on its website. These deal with the birth of the NHS, its funding and its use of migrant labour.

You can find all of the resources here: https://wellcomecollection.org/series/WyjG4ycAACrGnmBX

As we mark 70 years of free healthcare, it is also worth considering how the NHS has been understood by those who work in it and those who use it. The National Archives have commissioned an excellent overview of these issues from Andrew Seaton (a PhD candidate at New York University). His piece on the History of Government blog asks whether the NHS was always as popular as it is today.

You can read it here: https://history.blog.gov.uk/2018/07/05/from-caution-to-celebration-the-nhs-at-70/

And, if this has inspired you to find out more, it is well worth checking out the excellent collaborative histories being produced by https://www.nhs70.org.uk and https://peopleshistorynhs.org.