The NHS was launched on 5th July 1948, bringing together a disparate mix of municipally run and charity hospitals – often poorly funded with inadequate services – private voluntary hospitals, and private GP practices, access to whose services largely depended on one’s wealth. The chief architect of the modern NHS was Aneurin Bevan, as Minister for Health in the post war Labour government. Although a plan for a nationwide health service had been part of Liberal MP William Beveridge’s 1942 review of welfare provision, it only came into being through Bevan’s efforts. He adopted a new, radical approach in his National Health service Act 1946, which he pushed through Parliament against sustained opposition; from the Conservatives under Winston Churchill, from the British Medical Association representing GPs, and even from his own Cabinet colleagues, who all wanted a gradual evolution and for the service to be funded gradually as it developed. Bevan foresaw that this would create a much weaker service which would be a constant target for budget cuts and reversals, and most importantly, would never be able to meet the needs of the poorer members of society.
Bevan insisted that where medical need existed, medical care should follow, and that budgets should be of secondary importance. This was the only approach that would create a proper NHS. It was an immediate success, with over 95% of the population registering with the new NHS within weeks of its launch.
But within a year there were calls for budget rationing, and charging for prescriptions, dental treatment and glasses. No government since has resourced the NHS the way Bevan envisioned it and achieved in that first year.
Let us now start the re-birth of the NHS and Social Care, properly funded, and adequately resourced with highly prized – and praised – staff who are properly rewarded.
Some countries have a custom in which teachers are given presents of cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts on a special education day as a sign of their appreciation. To enshrine the health sector in our national and social psyche, let us, on every 5th July, show our appreciation in a similar way for all our great NHS and Social Care staff wherever they work and whatever their function – from cleaners to consultants.
Let it also be the day on which we organise mass protests in every town and city in the land against any future planned cuts to these services, to any planned privatisations or sell-offs, any failure to reverse the existing level of privatisations and against any backsliding by governments attempting to reduce funding.
Let’s make the UK a country that can finally and legitimately call itself civilised; in which a lack of resources, either personal or in the NHS, never deprives a sick person of timely medical aid. We must fight to ensure that the doctor-patient relationship stays a friend in need, rather than a friend in need of your money.