National Health Service

National Health Service

The National Health Service (N.H.S) was founded on 5 July 1948 to provide comprehensive healthcare for all British citizens, based on need, not the ability to pay.

Before the advent of the N.H.S, patients had to pay for their healthcare. Those in work often joined health insurance schemes arranged by their employers. Those who could not afford private healthcare would have to rely on the charity of a handful of doctors and nurses who offered their services free of charge (such was the case at Voluntary Hospitals and the Royal Free Hospital set up by the philanthropist William Marsden). Some people would resort to unreliable home remedies, or simply ignore symptoms.

In 1948, the new service reorganised the medical services of 14 regional hospital boards into three divisions: hospital services, family practitioner services (doctors, dentists, opticians and pharmacists) and community-based services. For the first time, facilities were brought under the control of one central service.

The N.H.S. is funded by taxpayers and managed by the Department of Health. When it was first established, it faced immediate difficulties. Medical science was making rapid advances at a time when food and fuel rationing was still in place. In order to find funds for new medicines and technology, the N.H.S. resorted to such measures as closing sections of hospitals used for treating patients with tuberculosis. In 1952, nominal fees were introduced for prescriptions and dental treatment.

The problems of reconciling resources and changing needs led to further restructuring during the rest of the 20th century. In the 1970s, Regional Health Authorities were introduced, and these were further reorganised in 1996. In the 1990s, internal markets were introduced.

By the end of the 20th century, London was under one overall health authority. Medical services were still administered in three separate groups: general practitioner and dental services (primary medical care providers), hospital and specialist services, and local health authority services (maternity and child welfare, home nursing, immunisation, ambulance service, and various other preventive and educational services).

All services are provided by professionals on government salaries under the direction of local executive councils or regional hospital boards. Towards the end of the century, it became common practice for some N.H.S. dentists and specialist physicians to treat private patients alongside their N.H.S. patients.

Alternate Names

  • N.H.S.

Bookmark with:

  • What are these?