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50 Years of the NHS

Charles Webster reflects on the achievements and shortcomings of fifty years of the National Health Service.

The fiftieth anniversary of the National Health Service, which falls on July 5th, 1998, is a particularly suitable moment for reflecting on its record and also for considering some of the sources of disadvantage that have affected the system since the outset. This will help to explain the paradox that despite its early recognition as a great national institution, the NHS has for most of its history been perceived as being in a state of crisis and on the verge of breakdown.

Modern research has not seriously questioned the scale of the achievements of 1948. Memories are constantly being rekindled, as for instance with Mr Blair’s recent White Paper, The New NHS, which adopted the title of the house-to-house leaflet distributed in April 1948 to explain the benefits offered by the new health service. A photographic illustration of the title page of the original leaflet is granted a place of honour as the first illustration in the White Paper, even taking precedence over the photograph of the prime minister in the foreword.

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