General Article A brief guide to the history of the NHS

Topic Selected: National Health Book Volume: 392

Founded to give free healthcare to all, the National Health Service is one of the UK’s most beloved institutions. But since it was founded in 1948, it’s faced a slew of demanding challenges, from ballooning costs to lethal epidemics.

By Rhiannon Davies

Before the National Health Service (NHS) came into being, Britain’s healthcare – and the health of its people – left much to be desired. Pre-Second World War, infectious diseases including diphtheria and tuberculosis were rife, and infant mortality rates were high.

Healthcare was something of a postcode lottery, with those who lived near to institutions like large teaching hospitals in London most likely receiving a higher standard of care than people whose closest port of call was a cottage hospital with few beds. And, of course, people had to pay for their healthcare: in the 1930s, one doctor’s visit was approximately three shillings and sixpence – an eye-watering cost that even the middle classes struggled with.

Officials had recom...

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