“Everyone — rich or poor, man, woman or child — can use it or any part of it,” read a leaflet introducing Britain’s public healthcare system in 1948. “There are no charges, except for a few special items. There are no insurance qualifications. But it is not a ‘charity.’ You are all paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in time of illness.”
Today, the National Health Service (NHS), which turns 75 on Wednesday, is the cornerstone of social welfare in the UK. Despite growing concerns about waiting times and staff pay, it interacts with patients an estimated 1.6 million times a day and remains one of the world’s largest employers.
But when the idea of free universal healthcare was first introduced in postwar Britain, it was a radical development in a country where treatment had been paid for by patients, charities or a national insurance system that only benefited those in employment.
Published ahead of this week’s anniversary, new book “The National Health Service” brings together over 100 photos from the service’s early decades. It shows formative programs such as the provision of birth control pills and nationwide immunization, as well as then-pioneering health technology.
“However clunky and crude the medical kit in some of these photographs seems,” wrote journalist Lucy Davies in the book’s introduction, “much of it was cutting edge for the time — and it saved lives.”
Scroll down to see more images from the book. “The National Health Service,” published by Hoxton Mini Press, is available now.