The concept of a National Health Service did not emerge from nowhere, as you will have discovered through reading What existed before the NHS?
With the voluntary hospitals permanently on the verge of financial collapse and the municipal hospitals almost universally loathed, there was no shortage of pressure for change. The first call for a National Health Service is usually attributed to Beatrice Webb, who argued the case for a state medical service in a submission to the Royal Commission on the Poor Law in 1909. Over the next 30 years the case for reform was taken up and developed in a succession of reports from the Ministry of Health, the British Medical Association and others, culminating in the ground-breaking Beveridge report of 1942.
Sir William Beveridge had been appointed by the Government to chair an inter-departmental committee to look into the existing National Insurance schemes. He made no detailed recommendations about how a National Health Service should be run, but by identifying health care as one of the three basic prerequisites for a viable social security system, he laid the foundations for the NHS as we know it today.
The Beveridge report was followed by a White Paper, A National Health Service, published in 1944, which said: everybody, irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunity to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available It added that the services should be comprehensive and free of charge and should promote good health as well as treating sickness and disease.
In 1945 came a second White Paper. The NHS Bill of March 1946 proposed the nationalisation of all the voluntary and municipal hospitals and the creation of 14 regional hospital boards to control them.
The National Health Service Act, steered through Parliament by Aneurin Bevan, the then Minister of Health, became law on November 6 1946.
It laid the ground rules for the modern NHS. It was to be a comprehensive health service designed to secure improvements in the physical and mental health of the people of England and Wales and the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness, funded through general taxation rather than National Insurance contributions.
Many compromises from many parties were still needed before the NHS could come into being on the appointed day - 5 July 1948. The key to the success of the plan was in winning over the various parties involved and it this with which Bevan is credited.
Extracts taken from Cradle to Grave by Geoffrey Rivett. Published by the King's Fund, 1998 (http://www.kingsfund.org.uk/). ISBN: 1- 85717-148-9. Price: £25.00. Available from selected bookshops and the King's Fund bookshop. Tel: 0171 307 2591.
Extracts from this text first appeared as a special foreword by Alan Langlands in Britain 1998: An Official Handbook, produced by the Office for National Statistics and published by The Stationery Office (ISBN 0-11-620942-0). Price £32 hardback.