Many years ago, when I was still an impecunious student, I went to a lecture given by Labour stalwart and Trade Union leader Clive Jenkins, who began by saying “I am going to quote from a great Labour statesman, which by definition means ‘e must be dead”. We all knew who he meant: Aneurin Bevan was Jenkins’ hero, the man who was tasked by Clem Attlee with creating the NHS.
Bevan succeeded in his mission, despite fierce opposition, mainly from those who would work within the NHS and make it such a success for the vast majority of those who used it. And he got his way, even though the Tories and their allies in the press mounted a highly personal and concerted campaign of misinformation and character assassination. That should never be forgotten.
Why is the NHS so important to so many people? Simples. Before its inception, and certainly before World War 2 brought conscription, most of the population either had to take out insurance, pay in via a friendly society, or do without health care. For many of those conscripted into the armed forces from 1939, it was their first visit to the doctor. Life expectancy was correspondingly lower as a result.
Or it was, at least, lower for those who could not afford health care: those who most fiercely opposed the NHS’s creation generally could afford such things. The righteous anger of those who firmly believed that allowing the lower orders good health care was not unadjacent to the end times was a sight to behold. And, sadly, that mentality is still with us today.
So that 65th anniversary is not being celebrated in the right-leaning part of the Fourth Estate, but by broadcasters, centrist and left-leaning papers, and those Trades Unions whose members worked so hard to support the birth and continuing existence of the NHS. Those who revel in scare stories about the service – who invariably go private – are shamefully silent.
They would rather not remind readers that people suffered and died prematurely as recently as the late 1930s because they could not afford to go to the doctor, or if they could, then found the cost of medicines out of their reach. Cancer sufferers, their families unable to afford pain relief, declined and died in appalling pain. Heart disease proliferated without the preventative care we now take for granted.
Families could not afford to have their babies delivered in hospitals, or even by qualified midwives, and so child mortality was increased. The concept of helping stroke victims back to a normal life through physiotherapy did not exist. The NHS has done a great deal for us over those 65 years, and we would do well not to allow the sneering and sniping of vested interests to deflect from that achievement.
And we can give thanks for the battles won by Aneurin Bevan.