People's History of the NHS

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  • 11
  • APR

Building a People’s Encyclopaedia of the NHS

by Mathew Thomson

Three months in to our People’s History of the NHS and we have an 11th Encyclopaedia entry. This is the first from a guest contributor, and we would welcome more of these. If you are interested in contributing something that you think belongs in our People’s Encyclopaedia, please do contact us.

A few themes are already surfacing in the Encyclopaedia. We have been keen to respond to current events, and this has led to several entries offering historical context that can help to situate the current Junior Doctors’ dispute: for instance, on the BMA and on student nurses. There is a strand emerging on what we might call the NHS body: on how teeth (even smiles) and hearing, for instance, may have been shaped by the experience of living in the NHS. And there’s now an emerging strand on the intriguing and important subject on age and generation: our earlier entry on being Born in the NHS, and now today’s new entry from guest contributor Professor Pat Thane on Old Age.

Pat Thane, as many of you will know, is one of the leading historians of the British welfare state and of the history of old age in Britain. She brings these two subjects together in an Encyclopaedia entry which we hope will provoke you to send us further reflections and memories about this important subject.

As Pat graphically explains, the creation of a National Health Service was hugely important for Britain’s elderly population, many of whom had been disabled until that date by lack of provision to address the natural effects of age on the body. NHS glasses, chiropody, and hearing aids (as another of the Encyclopaedia entries explains) transformed lives. But the entry also highlights that a kind of ‘age-based rationing’ developed as a feature of the NHS. Despite the emergence of a new specialism of geriatric medicine, the elderly population have been relatively neglected. There is often a tendency in debates about the NHS to see an expanding population of the elderly as a ‘burden’ and a problem. Pat’s entry offers a valuable corrective to such negative portrayal. As she points out, attending properly to the health of the elderly can increase their already growing contribution to childcare, national output, and taxation, and hence help in the funding of free health care.

We hope you will respond to Pat’s entry. We would also welcome your thoughts about the future topics that our Encyclopaedia should be addressing. You can add you thoughts via the Comments box that follows each Encyclopaedia entry. By the end of the project, and with your help, we hope to have an Encyclopaedia that is kaleidoscopic in its breadth, addressing both the obviously important and timely, and the stranger and more surprising. As it grows, you will also find that you can search for topics either through the A-Z index on the Encyclopaedia page or through one of our Search buttons (you’ll find one at the top of this page). We hope that this will develop into a valuable resource to assist and provoke thinking about the place of the NHS in British culture.

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