What is the NHS?
NHS stands for National Health Service. It is a unique, government-run organization which offers medical services to every man, woman and child in Britain from cradle to grave...free of charge! In order to see a doctor, have a hospital visit, an X-ray, an operation or a trip in an ambulance, it is not necessary to pay anybody or to have medical insurance. Perhaps surprisingly, most British people take the NHS almost entirely for granted!
How was the NHS started?
Healthcare in Britain before the NHS was desperately inadequate. The poor could rarely afford doctors and medicines. They turned instead to unreliable and sometimes dangerous home remedies. They might sometimes have been able to secure the services of charitable doctors who would examine and treat their poorest patients for free, but only if they were lucky.
Although the National Health Service wasn’t set up until 1948, the idea of general health care had existed much earlier. In the 19th century social reformers and philanthropists had done what they could to provide free health care for the most needy. However, they were just individuals, working independently. They had no government funding and relied entirely on private means, donations from the rich and charities to fund their projects. Their hospitals lurched from one financial crisis to the next and often had to close due to lack of money. Sometimes local authorities would run hospitals for the elderly and the mentally ill but these institutions were rare, prison-like and unpopular.
In 1920 the Dawson Report recommended a centralized health organization. The Royal Commission of 1926 went one step further and suggested that the health service should be publicly funded. The Second World War accelerated the process of change: the government began organizing the country’s healthcare on a centralized basis for the first time ever. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say! In 1946 the health minister Aneurin Bevan paved the way for the NHS by successfully pushing pertinent legislation through parliament. He is credited with being the ‘father’ of the NHS. Two years later, at midnight on 4th July, the National Health System was born. It’s mission statement was, ‘Everybody, irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunity to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available...free of charge.’
Has the NHS been successful?
If we look at the statistics the answer is most definitely ‘Yes!’ Infant mortality rates used to be as high as 1 in 20. They are nothing like that now. People now live at least ten years longer than they did in 1948. Various illnesses and diseases that were common in 1948 have virtually disappeared from the medical map due to country-wide, free, vaccination programmes – for example, polio, tuberculosis and diptheria. Free birth control pills have helped people gain more control over their lives by enabling them to plan their families.
However, the NHS is not perfect. Patients complain that they have to wait a long time for consultations and operations and that hospitals are not always as clean as they could be. The organization is also very costly to run. Successive governments have faced the problem of funding an ever-growing NHS.
And the future?
The NHS will have more and more demands to meet in the future. Nowadays about 17 million Britons have long-term illnesses such as asthma and heart disease. As the population grows older, so demand on the NHS grows. Obesity and diabetes are on the increase. How will the NHS meet these demands? Many people say that more funding is the answer though others claim the solution is more complicated than that. Whatever the future for the NHS we can be sure that it will continue to challenge the governments to come.
Quick Quiz: Read the clues below and write the solutions on a piece of paper. Then take the first letter of each answer and rearrange them to find the hidden word connected with this Talking Point.
1. The National Health Service is a unique, government-run, organization which offers medical services to every man, woman and child in Britain from cradle to grave...free of __________.
2. Healthcare in Britain before the NHS was __________ inadequate.
3. Although the National Health Service wasn’t set up until 1948, the idea of general health care had existed much __________.
4. Social reformers and philanthropists had no government support and relied on private __________, donations from the rich and charities to fund their projects.
5. Sometimes __________ authorities would run hospitals for the elderly and the mentally ill but these institutions were rare, prison-like and unpopular.
6. Necessity is the mother of __________.
7. Everybody, irrespective of means, __________, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunity to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.