In 1687 the Royal College of Physicians announced that its members would give free treatment to paupers and proposed the building of a public dispensary based at the College, where the poor could receive free medicines. This angered the Royal Society of Apothecaries who were angered by what they saw as a direct threat to their livelihood, and there was also fierce opposition amongst physicians. Despite these ongoing disagreements, in 1696, the RCP committee on medicines again proposed the establishment of the dispensary and by the end of the year 52 College members had subscribed £10 each to support the project.
The dispensary was the first example in England of free medical advice and treatment being given to members of the public. It was only on a small scale and ended in 1724, but is an example of an attempt to make medicine free to patients before the creation of the NHS in 1948.