1969 saw a nationwide ‘Raise the Roof‘ campaign for fair pay, which reached the House of Commons with a lobby by the United Nurses Association
It’s safe to say recent times haven’t been kind to the NHS: privatisation, workforce shortages, wage crises and a certain government’s constant blunders have left it under huge pressure. It turns out that you can clap, cheer and bang saucepans as much as you like, but that doesn’t really make a massive difference.
However, that’s not to say that the NHS doesn’t remain a much-beloved institution. When it began life in 1948, the NHS promised to care for British citizens ‘from the cradle to the grave’, offering universal health care for all, regardless of wealth or status.
When you consider the health services in places like the US, where even giving birth costs eye-watering amounts of money, it’s little purpose that the NHS is “widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest political achievements and has long been the envy of all nations,” as published Hoxton Mini Press, which is behind a new book about the service, puts it.
Simply titled The National Health Service, the hardback tome with a handsome blue cloth spine draws together a wealth of black and white photographs from throughout the 20th century that look to “capture the optimism and ideals of the early years and celebrate the NHS’s many triumphs and trials – providing a timely reminder of the importance of its continued survival.”
Patient being fitted for glasses at the Moorfields Eye Hospital in east London, 1950. The NHS boasted that many stylish frames were available
Children receive sun-lamp therapy, believed to have a curative effect on everything from chest infections to acne, in 1948. The link between UV rays and skin cancer was then unknown
With regular check-ups younger generations would get to keep their teeth, but the first nine months of the NHS saw 4.5 million extractions and 33 million artificial teeth issued
X-rays were a vital diagnostic tool, instrumental in the fight against tuberculosis – which was responsible for around 25,000 deaths a year in Britain prior to 1948
Showing both NHS staff and service users, the snaps feature doctors, nurses, health visitors, midwives, ambulance workers and also those people we don’t often see immortalised in photos or books but who are equally deserving of recognition – the cleaners, cooks, and porters.
Cleaners, in fact, are so vital to the NHS that they clean an area the size of Gibraltar every day, according to Hoxton Mini Press, while NHS cooks prepare a staggering 227 meals a minute.
Likewise, while the book is rooted in what’s often seen as a thoroughly British institution, the images show a diverse NHS, as reflective of the fact that today, its staff takes in people from more than 200 different nationalities.
Images of medical procedures and checkups aren’t usually those that bring about a powerful sense of faux-nostalgia for times gone by, but somehow many of these images do just that. The odd contraptions and analogue-ness of it all feel like vaguely comforting remnants of simpler times, despite the obvious discomfort of things like stiffly starched nurse uniforms and impossibly unwieldy prams.
Nigerian nurse in Brook General Hospital, London, 1958. The 1950s saw increased recruitment from the Commonwealth and Caribbean as the shortfall in nurses grew.
Checking contraceptive pills at British Drug Houses Ltd., 1965
Britain’s first heart transplant patient Frederick West with nurses at the National Heart Hospital in London, 1968. He would survive for just 46 days after receiving the donor heart.
Cover shows: Mobile immunisation van in Portsmouth, 1951. An extensive against diphtheria campaign was launched in this year due to falling take-up rates, or ‘immunisation apathy’, as it was called.