People's History of the NHS

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Joe Harrison on what the NHS means

by Jenny Crane

We are delighted to share with you the above reflections by Joe Harrison, the CEO of Milton Keynes Hospital.  Of the quote, he says …

“As part of my week curating @NHS I wrote a few paragraphs on what I think the NHS means to us all on January 13th.

It was a chance to pause and reflect on the enormity of the what the NHS does throughout our lives, and also to recognise the hard work and skill of our NHS staff who characterise the founding principles of our health service.

I love the NHS and all it stands for in our society; that no-one need worry about seeking the help they need because they cannot afford it; that every child born has full and equal access to health and care services regardless of what their parents earn. It is a tremendous societal achievement and one we should do everything in our power to preserve for future generations.

The response to the message has been really positive – I think and hope it resonates with most people, as the NHS is a service we will all depend on at some point in our lives.”

The sense of love and pride for the NHS in this quote resonates throughout the research and engagement events we conduct, inflected and entwined with popular concerns about the politics and future of the Service.  The idea of overlapping and multiple identities – us all as patients, practitioners, contributors to the NHS in various ways – also is key in our work.

We would love to hear from more people on our key research question, What does the NHS mean to you?  If anyone would like to share a similar reflection, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Jenny Crane from our team at

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3 thoughts on “Joe Harrison on what the NHS means

  1. I started Nursing 6 years after the innovation of the NHS. They where great years, with great memories of patients, other staff, particularly our fantastic Sister Tutor, she was stern but very fair,always with a twinkle in her eye. When matron with the backing of the Hospital Committee, tried to get us all spend 3 months of our training at another inferior hospital, they told us that the powers that be, who had just done a check on all the hospitals, had said that the other hospital was not fit to train nurses, as they had no casualty dept, and I’m not sure they had a theatre, one of our nurses, asked them did that mean we would have to spend 3 months at this other hospital. So we got together to oppose their decision. We gave our notice in enmass, our sister tutor supported us, all the ward sister’s,trained staff, ward orderlies, even the domestics. A week before our notice was up, we all received a letter of apology. The time spent at that hospital was the best time of my life, it was because of working there I met my husband, a fellow nurse introduced us.

    1. How lovely, thank you for sharing this memory! Always great to hear about NHS romances and also about powerful collective staff action!

      I wonder if you would possibly please consider signing up and sharing this memory at We’d love to have it documented properly there!

      All v best, Jenny

  2. I am now 82 years old . I recall ,when I was small , a lady coming to the house every Monday morning to collect 6 pence. She was the Doctors woman …and when I was older …I asked mum why she came. It means that if we need a Doctor we can pay for what we may need, medicine ,ointments etc. We always had a few medicines in the house. We all hated Fennings Fever cure,but when it was needed we took it. My uncle lived with my grandma. He had been a miner in the pits but there had been a fall of stone which had broken his spine and he was unable to feel anything or walk or work again. He was brought to Grandma,s house and stayed there til Granny died. Who will take him then ,the family asked. It was a colliery house and he #hould go to the workhouse. This hospital had been the workhouse,,,,a dreaded place by everyone ,,,one of my mum.s brothers lived up the street and they took him for 3 days and them someone else had to take him. The youngest brother and his wife took him and he stayed with them for 7 months and then. who would have him? We only had 2 rooms upstairs and 2 downstairs,,and room was at a premium but my dad said that after pleadings from my mum for Fred not to go into the workhouse hospital ,Uncle Fred could come to us. He came in his bed with a frame over his legs and his rugs and stayed with us , my mum doing all of the cleaning and washing , until uncle Fred died. It must have been a few years as I recall some of the war years he spent with us. No district nurses came to see to him. He got a few pounds from the local miners association but that was all. What a life for him and us really. There was very little help given and my mum had a lot to do. Llooking after my sister and I and her and my dad. She had also married into a ready made family of 5. girls and ,my site really and I were born after. Life was very hard, Not much money , a war on and expectations were very low. Things have changed so much. Thankfully. But the wonderful NHS Was a god send. We really don’t appreciate what that gave to us.

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