Read how Nursing Times helped usher in the National Health Service in July 1948.
Below is the editorial article written Miss M. L. Wenger, the Nursing Times editor at the time when the NHS was born, where she explains to readers how the new system will work.
She also highlights why it represents a “tremendous advance” in the UK’s history and noted that nurses are “fortunate in being a most essential part” of it.
Our Health Service
People in many countries will be watching the early progress of our new National Health Service which starts on Monday, July 5. In this country there will be many differing attitudes toward the Service, by those who have agreed to serve in it, by those remaining outside, and by the public who are free to make use of it. It will affect everyone: it sets out to be a comprehensive service made possible by the State for its citizens, not as a form of charity, but as their right. The cost will be borne by the State, so that none need lose their health, vitality, and happiness through their inability to meet the extra expense which illness has meant in the past. All will contribute to the cost, but all will have the right to use freely the many valuable services offered whenever necessary. All the provisions of the complementary National Insurance Act also come into force on July 5, and the provisions of the two Acts together form a picture of a comprehensive social service which is unequalled in any other country in the world.
This is a tremendous advance in the history of any country and though some others have already a similar service, they are not as comprehensive in their scope. The first factor, that all medical attention, hospital treatment, nursing care in the hospital and at home, medicines and other services are free to every man, woman, and child, means that a tremendous burden is lifted from those who know too well the difficulties of making a small income fit the needs of a family, even when all goes well.
The apprehension of adding to expenses by calling in a doctor has, in the past, meant that diseases have been allowed to advance until treatment is sought too late, perhaps even to save a life, and often to prevent long and expensive absence from work. That this country should take the responsibility of such a Service is a fact of which we may well be proud. How it will work depends on those controlling it, and those translating it into personal service.
Nurses are fortunate in being a most essential part of the service. Some nurses have been appointed to help in the control and management of it. The majority will, in many people’s minds, be the service. More nurses will be visiting the homes of the people as health visitors, domiciliary nurses and midwives. More people will meet the nurse at the clinics, health centres and hospital out-patient departments, and they will judge the service by the personal care and consideration they receive. But they will also criticise the service if they need nursing care and cannot obtain it for lack of nurses or closure of hospital beds.
Some will welcome the introduction of the service as a long-awaited and worked-for goal. Others will see in it a restrictive and controlling machine hampering their individual power and drive. There will be plenty to criticize, but those who are within the Service must realize its great opportunities and strive to make them achievements. First, there is the relief from dread for the parents who cannot afford the extra expense that illness of the non-insured members of the family has meant in the past. Nurses in most branches of work have been fortunate in never having had to consider their patients’ financial means, receiving their salary regardless of the patients’ income, doctors have had to do this in the past; they need not do so in the future.
The voluntary hospitals, that have had to exist on and ask for charity in the past, will no longer have to wonder where the money will come from to meet their increasing expenses; nor to cut down on equipment or salaries for lack of basic funds. Voluntary service and gifts they will still be happy to receive, but these will be for extras—not for the day to day essentials. The passing of the voluntary hospital system may seem a tragedy to many, but the spirit which has survived great difficulties throughout the past, can be carried forward into the future.
Doctors will be able to work as general practitioners, yet with all the facilities of hospitals and laboratories available to them in the health centres, which are to be so important a feature of the health service plan. These centres, also, should change the whole matter of going to the doctor from a dreaded visit, fearing that something may be advised that cannot be afforded, to a social club with opportunities for getting help and advice on health, more on the lines of the Peckham Health Centre. In addition to the major services there are to be arrangements for supplying ambulances, medicines, such as insulin, dental and ophthalmic services, appliances, day nurseries and home helps. There will be help for those who are mentally or physically handicapped, so that they need not feel a burden being entirely dependent on their family’s resources.
Miss M. L. Wenger, 3 July 1948
Nursing Times July 1948
Nursing Times July 1948