Celebrating 75 years of the NHS

A new photobook memorialises the triumphs and trials of the early years of Britain’s National Health Service, providing a timely reminder of its importance

The National Health Service (NHS) was born in 1948 out of the belief that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. Promising to care for the citizens of Britain ‘from the cradle to the grave’, it is widely regarded as one of the country’s greatest political achievements.

As we approach the NHS’s 75th anniversary on 5 July, a new book gathers archival images from picture libraries and media organisations, memorialising the triumphs and trials of its early decades. Published by Hoxton Mini Press, The National Health Service captures many ‘firsts’: nurses proudly cradling the first babies to be born on the NHS; a portrait of Sir John Charnley, the doctor who performed Britain’s first successful hip operation in Britain in 1962; and the arrival of the world’s first CT scanner in 1972.

“Now, the NHS faces an emergency, with workers striking for fair pay, waiting lists at an all-time high, and chronic staff shortages”

While the book traces the NHS’s many achievements, it also acknowledges its flaws. The service has always suffered from lack of funding, and as a result protest has long been part of its history. We see images from 1962 of 8,000 nurses protesting in Trafalgar Square, then again in 1980 as part of a campaign against nuclear defence, ‘Treatment Not Trident’. A placard from 1989 – still relevant today – reads: “The NHS is terminally ill with thatcherism. An injection of socialism will save it”.

Now, the NHS faces an emergency, with workers striking for fair pay, waiting lists at an all-time high, and chronic staff shortages. These photographs offer a timely reminder of the importance of fighting for its survival.

The National Health Service is out now (Hoxton Mini Press)

Marigold Warner

Deputy Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Deputy Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Elephant, Gal-dem, The Face, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.