As we celebrate 70 years of the National Health Service, its prominence in policy and society is just as relevant as it was in the very beginning.
What makes the NHS different to the healthcare systems of places like the USA is that rather than being private and operating on an insurance-basis, the NHS is publicly funded through taxation and contributions to National Insurance. This means that some of the money you see deducted from your payslip goes towards partly paying for the healthcare for everyone in England as opposed to fully and exclusively paying for your own.
Additionally, the NHS encompasses all of the UK’s constituent countries including Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Private healthcare still exists and is still an option in this country, but the money we all pay for the NHS means that those who cannot afford this can still get the crucial medical treatment they need. Furthermore, visitors to England can also access this medical treatment in urgent and emergency cases. As a universal healthcare system, since it’s conception the NHS has always aimed to be accessible for all people from all walks of life.
The National Health Service Act was brought to Parliament in 1946, a year after Labour’s surprise landslide victory ousted the Conservatives and Winston Churchill. Similar to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) proposed in the US under the Obama administration, the NHS as a proposal faced a lot of opposition. This was from not only the Conservatives (who voted against the formation of the NHS – and the Bill’s Second and Third Reading – a total of 21 times) but also doctors and churches.
It was, however, through the relentlessness of Minister of Health Aneurin Bevan (pictured above) and the public consensus that the NHS was eventually founded, and since then Britain has never looked back.
Following this dramatic post-war policy, the public has become greatly attached to the NHS, with former Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson claiming that the system ‘is the closest thing this country could ever have to a religion’.
Arguably, it is this cross-generation love for the NHS which means that it remains a fundamental issue in politics. For example, a big part of Vote Leave’s Brexit campaigning appealed to our attachment to the NHS by claiming that the money we don’t spend on the EU could be spent on it. Hypothetically, this £350 million would have made a significant difference to the NHS, so it seems natural that those passionate about the NHS may have voted ‘Leave’ as a result.
Beyond Brexit, the NHS is also facing its own issues following significant budget tightening such as the mass exodus of nurses, long waiting lists and junior doctors striking due to a lack of pay. Whilst only time will tell whether the NHS will overcome these problems and continue, it’s clearly a piece of our history and identity as a nation.