How to look for records of... Health policy

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

This is a brief guide to help you find records about health policy and administration, including policies on nursing. The Ministry of Health records at The National Archives are wide-ranging and cover many aspects of the development of health policy in Britain.

What do I need to know before I start?

The Local Government Board was established in 1871. It was formed from the Poor Law Board, the Local Government Act Office of the Home Office and the Medical Department of the Privy Council Office. It had primary responsibility for supervision of local government services.

The Ministry of Health was established under the Ministry of Health Act 1919 and assumed the powers and duties of the Local Government Board and the National Health Insurance Commissions for England and Wales, together with powers of the Privy Council under the Midwives Acts.

Before the National Health Service was established in 1948 healthcare was fragmented with no central control.

What records can I see online?

Parliamentary Papers (1688-1834)

Search the Parliamentary Papers (institutional subscription required) for digitised copies of official papers published by the House of Commons and House of Lords.

Government datasets

Search Discovery, our catalogue, for information and statistics related to health policy held in digital datasets. See our research guide on government datasets for detailed advice on how to do this.

What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

Records of the Ministry of Health, its predecessors, and related bodies (1798-2001)

Browse MH in Discovery, our catalogue, to find records from the Ministry of Health, the Poor Law Commission and other bodies involved in the provision of healthcare from 1798 to the modern day.

Search within MH in our catalogue, using appropriate keywords to search for specific topics. The following search terms will uncover some of the key topics covered in this department:

  • “public assistance” (particularly for health issues between the World Wars)
  • “poor law” (particularly for 19th century health issues)

Records of the Ministry of Health and the Department of Health and Social Security (1919-1998)

Browse BN in our catalogue for records from the Ministry of Health, 1919 to 1968, and the Department of Health and Social Security, 1968 to 1988.

Records created or inherited by the Department of Health (1987-2005)

Browse JA in our catalogue for records of the Department of Health relating to the provision and administration of health services.

Records of the General Nursing Council for England and Wales (c1860-1984)

Browse DT in our catalogue for records of the General Nursing Council (GNC), founded in 1919, including documents pre-dating the creation of the GNC.

Nursing records of the Ministry of Labour (1907-1985)

Search for Ministry of Labour records in our catalogue within LAB 8 (1907-1983), LAB 17 (1918-1985), LAB 19 (1913-1980) and LAB 26 (1940-1956), using the search term ‘nurse’.

Mental health issues and policies (1798-1981)

Browse the ten series (MH 50, MH 51, MH 83, MH 85, MH 86, MH 94, MH 95, MH 100, MH 103 and MH 118) of records of the Lunacy Commission, Board of Control and special hospitals within MH.

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Hospital records

Search the Hospital Records Database to locate records relating to specific hospitals held at The National Archives and local archives.

Records held locally

The National Archives’ catalogue contains collections and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.

What other resources will help me find information?


Consult our library catalogue for books on health policy.


Browse the National Health Service History website for the history of the healthcare in the UK.