NHS established

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  • Intro

    In 1945, with Britain crippled by war, Clement Attlee's Labour party swept to power promising to combat poverty with a brand new welfare state. New legislation provided unemployment, sickness and maternity benefits, and old-age pensions. The National Health Service Acts introduced universal free healthcare, including all services of doctors, dentists, opticians, and hospitals. This was the first time in British history that free health care had been available to all citizens.In this rarely-heard recording, made during the 1959 General Election Campaign, Health Minister Aneurin Bevan, outlines the principles behind the foundation of the NHS. 

     

    Today, few qualify for free prescriptions, dental work or glasses. However, doctors, clinics and hospital services remain free to all. The NHS is one of the world's largest employers, with 1.3 million staff. How to fund it, given the demands of modern medicine, is a hotly debated topic.

     

    This 1946 photograph shows a nurse looking after a small boy in Tredegar, Wales, taken shortly before the NHS came into operation in 1948. Aneurin Bevan was born in Tredegar and it is possible that the idea for the NHS was inspired by the local Workmen's Medical Aid Society where members paid two pence out of every pound they earned to go towards their medical, dental and optical services. 

     

    Photograph copyright Getty Images.

  • Audio

    Can't play the file above? Listen to the audio clip here

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