Speech notes for WSC’s speech (2 March, Royal College of Physicians, London) on advances in medicine and science and the importance of a National Health Service.
5 July 1948, 70 years ago this month, saw the beginning of the implementation of the National Health Service (NHS). The health minister, Aneurin “Nye” Bevan, marked the occasion by visiting what is now known as Trafford General Hospital in Manchester, the first official NHS hospital. The guiding principle of the NHS was that it was to be free at point of need.
The Great Depression of the 1930s had highlighted the most pressing shortfalls of the British welfare system. With record numbers of unemployed citizens struggling with a costly and complicated healthcare system, people often went without vital treatment. The options for patients included voluntary or municipal hospitals, or simply choosing to endure their conditions if neither were available. Much of the municipal healthcare system was a remainder of the Poor Law, which carried with it the stigma of the workhouse.
In the document which are notes for a speech in March 1944 to the Royal College of Physicians, Churchill began with, “The invention of healing science must be the inheritance of all”. He also went on to emphasise that the destiny of the country depends on the health of its citizens. For a nation weary of the toils of war, Churchill’s sentiment would have been well-received. The national unity brought about by the war, coupled with the feeling that the people deserved a better country for their wartime sacrifices meant that the Labour party’s promise to implement universal health care proved to be extremely popular. On 5 July 1945 Churchill issued a Cabinet Paper, requesting that his colleagues move forward on legislating the National Health Service. This was too late to have any real impact at the polls.
In this speech, it is clear that Churchill is exercising great caution in presenting the notion of a universal healthcare system to the Royal College of Physicians. He acknowledges that there will be more consultants needed, and that the support and work of the college will be absolutely necessary for the scheme. The resistance of consultants and doctors to the NHS was a significant obstacle for Aneurin Bevan, who famously quipped, “I stuffed their mouths with gold” in reference to the high wages and payoffs for hospital staff.