Plymouth and the National Health Service

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The archives at The Box contain a range of pictures of figures linked to the UK’s National Health Service. Here, Media Archivist Stacey Anderson guides us through a few significant examples…..

On July 5, 1948 the National Health Service was born. This bold and pioneering plan to make healthcare accessible to all, was launched by the then Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan.

Mr Aneurin Bevan, giving a speech at the Devonport Election, 10th Feb 1950

Before the NHS, if someone required the services of a doctor or medical intervention, they were expected to pay. The Local Government Act of 1929 attempted to address this issue by allowing the ‘poor’ free access to medical treatment as ratepayers, but it was largely insufficient and not applied consistently.

Photograph, Medical staff, Lockyer Street Hospital, Plymouth, early 20th century

Significant change came during wartime which created the need for an Emergency Hospital Service to care for the wounded. It also gave the masses a taste of what a National Health Service might look like!

Locally, Nancy, Lady Astor was a leading voice in the need for greater social welfare reform, particularly for children. The Beveridge Report of 1942, which had put forward recommendations for health and rehabilitation services, was accepted by all parties in the House of Commons and led to a government White Paper in 1944 which set out the principles for the NHS; that it meet the needs of everyone, that it be free at the point of delivery, and that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay.

Photograph of nurses with children, Plymouth, 1941
Photograph of Professor Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad with Councillor Sir Arthur Hollely, chairman of the Public Health Committee, Plymouth,
and Deputy Lord William J Modley, Plymouth, 1942

Its formal launch by Bevan in 1948 represents one of the most significant moments of British social history. At one time, the idea of a National Health Service would have been unheard of and yet now, more than ever before, we cannot imagine life without it, nor the scores of doctors, nurses and health care professionals who serve at its heart.

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