Saturday, August 01, 2009

61 years later - Thank you Mr Bevan

I watched a BBC documentary this week about the founding of the National Health Service NHS in 1948.

It filled me with pride to hear about the fighting spirit of the great Welshman, Aneurin Bevan, Minister of Health, in the great reforming Labour Government immediately after the Second World War. Mr Bevan had worked down the coal mines of Wales as had his Father before him. He was from working class stock and very proud of it.

Mr Bevan steadfastly refused to give up the battle to set up the NHS despite opposition from powerful lobbies like the medical profession. The Conservative Party under the leadership of Winston Churchill violently opposed the setting up of the NHS in the House of Commons. That tells me a lot about the Conservative Party philosophy which has not really changed of course since those days. Whilst they make the right political noises to capture votes I'm sure they would secretly love to privatise the entire NHS.

Mr Bevan famously said that no longer will wealth be an advantage nor poverty a disadvantage. He said that healthcare will be provided free of charge to all based on clinical need and not on the ability to pay.

These principles still apply today - 61 year later and I for one will fight to my dying day for those principles to remain intact.

Despite what cynics and scaremongerers might try and tell us it is possible to have a government funded universal heath care system and patient choice at the same time. Those people who can afford to pay for private healthcare in the UK have that choice (they have ALWAYS had that choice).

What the wealthiest people in Britain DO NOT HAVE is any more of a right to free NHS treatment than the poorest member of our society. Isn’t that wonderful?

Despite being a great advocate for the NHS I have also always acknowledged there are many problems in the NHS. It is far from perfect. I still however have a sense of great pride that in Britain we can say we have a free healthcare service for the most vulnerable members of our society and it is guaranteed regardless of wealth status.

Surely one way any nation can be judged is how it guarantees to look after its most vulnerable citizens regardless of their ability to pay.


Marilyn Jess said...


You have reminded us that using fear as a way to keep our dysfunctional healthcare system in place doesn't work. Many countries have nationalized healthcare, and their outcomes and life expectancies are better than the USA.

I can understand how much resistance Mr. Bevan must have faced. True visionaries always face such skepticism. Now it is magnified more by the organized, well funded efforts to keep our staus quo.

Beautful tribute.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Marilyn - thanks for your comments as always.

I realise of course that the US is starting at a different place than we in the UK on healthcare reform. I look forward to seeing how Mr Obama gets on with his radical plans to restructure healthcare – I wish him well. We have had 61 years of a universal, government funded, health care system and therefore the culture in the UK is well set.

Regardless of political persuasion I think it is fair to say by far the majority of people in the UK admire and respect the NHS and recognise and value its uniqueness compared with most healthcare systems around the world.

People like Mr Bevan inspire me – they don’t know the meaning of the word defeat and they will fight for their cause until their dying breath. Even more inspiring given his upbringing in the hard graft of a working class Welsh coal mining family.