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The National Health Service

Full Transcript of video based activity "Your very good health"

Listen to this public information film from 1948 about the National Health Service (NHS) and discuss:

  • What did the NHS offer Charley and his family?
  • Why did the government think people like Charley needed the NHS explaining to them?
  • Would Charley expect more from the NHS as time went on?

First, make a careful note of any scenes in the film that help to answer these questions. When you have finished, make notes on what else the film reveals about the NHS and how it was introduced.

Your Very Good Health

Duration: 0:08:36

Taken from the production file (Catalogue reference: INF 6/1969)
Commentator: In the past we've had all sorts of Public Health Services such as main drainage and water supply.
Everyone makes use of these services and everyone pays for them!
Refuse disposal is another of these services and so is street cleaning.
These are all Public Health Services, but the new Health Act proposes to organise 'PERSONAL' health services in the same way.
There have been many personal health services, but different kinds of financial arrangements.
Charley: Morning George.
George: Morning Charles,
Commentator: Morning, Some people could afford them, others could not. Some places were well off for hospitals others were unlucky.
This new health service will be organised on a national scale as a public responsibility. The cost of the service will be met from rates, taxes and National Insurance - and so everyone will pay for it.
Charley: Huh! Thought there was a catch in it.
Commentator: And everyone will benefit from it. When you're ill you won't have to pay for treatment.
Charley: I don't have to pay the doctor now! I'm on the panel.
Commentator: Yes, that's true. But your wife and children aren't. The panel system covers only half the population. And it doesn't cover hospital treatment or a lot of other things, does it?
Now suppose - just suppose you fall off your bike. Suppose your brakes give out. You might have concussion as well. You'd be carted off in an ambulance, which might cost a couple of quid, and then you'd have to pay the hospital too.
All right! (Whistle)
Charley: Whew! Glad that's over.
Commentator: The new health service would cover all this. Now let's consider it from the family viewpoint. Suppose your wife falls ill suddenly.
Charley: But my old woman never is ill - strong as a blooming horse she is!
Mrs. Charley: We mothers can't afford to be ill - I am not insured. Just a minute, ducks. And besides I can't take time off from my job!
Commentator: Well that's just it. Now let's see how the New Health Act will actually help you. The local council will have a new duty to provide home nursing, health visiting, and home help services.
And you'll be able to call on them. Maternity and child welfare services will be improved. And finally, to prevent illness, you'll have the advice of your own doctor. If you are ill, you'll have specialist services if you need them - without worrying about the cost.
Mrs. Charley: That's more like it.
Charley: How does the whole scheme work?
Commentator: Well, suppose we see how it is at present. Hospitals were built haphazard according to the varying foresight and resources of many different authorities, with extremely patchy results. Re-organising will take time, but at the end of it the country will have the sort of hospitals and other services it needs where they are needed.
The family doctor will usually work in his own surgery as he does now, but special Health Centres will gradually be established as building allows. He will be backed up, your doctor I mean, by organised hospitals and specialist services for the really difficult cases, a lesson we learned during the war.
Charley: Sounds a bit of all right to me. But - just a minute. Where do I come in?
Commentator: Right here! Let's have a practical demonstration. Off you go to the doctor. You have some unusual illness which can't be diagnosed.
He'll no doubt wish you to see a specialist. In hospital you'll be under observation. This will include X-ray if it's found necessary. They may decide you need special drugs. Or blood transfusion. And they'll be able to make use of the path lab, to find out what's wrong, and how best to make you well.
Charley: Whew, glad that's over! But look here. How about the people who don't want to use this service. Take OLD GEORGE up the road for instance. Bet you a pound to a penny HE won't want to have anything to do with it.
Commentator: Well, let's find out.
Charley: Morning George. Busy? Here, what's your opinion of this new Health Act?
George: No use to me, old man.
Charley: Now wait a minute. Just suppose, only suppose mind you, you fell off that ladder? What would happen?
George: I should call my doctor and have a private ward at the local hospital.
Charley: All right, George, if you want to pay private fees that's your look out. No one's FORCING you to use this service. But suppose instead of a simple broken leg you have a complicated break. And suppose you have to spend months off sick. And suppose you don't need just one doctor but a number of expert's opinion. What's the answer to THAT?
George: Ruin.
Charley: With this new Act you're covered against things like that.
George: I say, thanks a lot old man.
Commentator: It's all yours whenever you want it with your own choice of doctor. And that goes for the whole family. The scheme is comprehensive. It's not only to help you when you are ill but to help to keep you well. And of course the younger generation will stand to gain the biggest benefits of all.

The creation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948 changed the lives of the British population forever. By studying the Cabinet papers you can discover the impact the National Health Service had on the British population and on the government. After the end of the Second World War most of Britain became healthier, wealthier, better educated, and lived for longer. The NHS evolved considerably in this time and played a large part in this process.

Writing Frame tool

Find your own answers to these questions about the National Health Service (NHS). Each research project involves investigating primary sources from the cabinet papers within an interactive Writing Frame.

Learn more about each project here before choosing the corresponding content section.

Why was the NHS so important to the Labour Party?

The Labour Party introduced the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948 with little opposition from the Conservatives. Why was the NHS created in the first place? What did it stand for? The period is known as the 'post-war consensus', but did the people, the political parties and the medical profession all agree on the principle of a NHS? Did they agree on the practice?

Why was the NHS difficult to manage in the 1950s?

As you study the Cabinet papers and other sources from the 1950s it becomes increasingly clear that the NHS was successful and popular. It also becomes clear that it was a headache for the Conservative governments that ran Britain from 1951 - 1964. In this investigation you are going to discover why the NHS was difficult to manage in the 1950s.

How did the NHS reflect the politics of the 1960s and 1970s?

A period of transition, in which traditional society began to break down, followed the period of consensus. In the late 1960s Labour and Conservatives were actively looking to show the voters they had very different policies. Did developments in the National Health Service (NHS) reflect the changes, or was it all an oasis of cross-party co-operation? Study how the NHS is closely linked with the politics of the 1960s and 1970s.

Further reading

  • Klein, R., The Politics of the National Health Service (London: Longman, 1983)
  • Fraser, D., The Evolution of the British Welfare State (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002)
  • O'Morgan, K., The People's Peace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987)