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Last updated:18 June 2015

Birth of the NHS

The Labour government elected after the Second World War made healthcare for all a priority. Under the previous system, only those in employment were entitled to free treatment under national insurance provisions.

Plebs cartoonIn creating the new system Minister for Health Aneurin Bevan faced opposition from the Conservative Party, from some within his own party and from the British Medical Association. The compromise with the BMA resulted in GPs retaining the freedom to run their practices as small businesses, and in consultants being given more money and being allowed to keep undertaking private practice.

On the ‘appointed day', 5 July 1948, 1143 voluntary hospitals and 1545 municipal hospitals were taken over by the NHS in England and Wales. There were no extra doctors or nurses. What changed was the way in which people could get and pay for care. Now people didn't pay for medical attention when they needed it, and instead paid as taxpayers, collectively. ‘From now on the "family doctor" was a person whose advice could be sought freely without incurring the previously dreaded expense', to quote the 1949 Ministry of Health Report.

Guide to the NHS Act - coverClick here to view some pages from this original  NHS Act leaflet(1MB)