NHS at 70: pride, panic and prescriptions

A new era: Nye Bevan, the founder of the NHS, visiting a hospital in Manchester on the day the NHS was launched.

Can the NHS survive? On July 5, it will turn 70. Few Britons remember a time when it did not exist. Free health care remains very popular, but it is becoming harder than ever to provide.

What’s happening

On Thursday, the NHS will turn 70. There will be celebrations around the country, but the birthday is not a completely happy one. A new study says that the NHS is failing in key areas. Last winter, it barely coped with the number of sick people. Headlines like “NHS at breaking point” are common.

Find out more

When the NHS was born, the UK became the first country in the world to offer free health care to all its people. Nye Bevan, the politician who set it up, called it “the envy of the world”.

Times have changed. The population has shot up, and people live longer. Health care has become more complex. The NHS costs 12 times more to run now than it did in 1948.

Governments struggle to find that money. As a result, the NHS has fewer doctors, nurses and hospital beds than other rich countries, and does worse in areas like cancer care.

The prime minister did recently announce more funding for the service. However, experts warn that this birthday present is the “bare minimum” needed to keep the NHS going.

Will the service survive another 70 years?

Some say…

No. Soon, the country won’t be able to afford free health care. People now live longer and have diseases, like dementia, that are costly to treat. Since its birth, the NHS has started charging for some things, such as prescriptions. It will have to do this more and more. This will prevent a crisis, but it will be the end of the NHS as we know it.

Others think…

Nonsense. Free health care for all is a noble idea. Before elections, Britons always say that they want to keep it; we are so proud of the NHS that it has been called our “national religion”. No government would dare to kill it off. The service has survived 70 years against the odds. One way or another, politicians will keep it going.

You Decide

  1. Is health the most important thing in the world?


  1. As a class, organise an event to celebrate the NHS’s birthday on Thursday. Why not try to get the rest of the school involved?

Some People Say...

“It is health that is real wealth, and not pieces of gold and silver.”

Mahatma Gandhi

What do you think?

Word Watch

National Health Service.
Nye Bevan
(1897-1960) Bevan was a Labour politician. The Conservative Party opposed his plans for the NHS at the time, but they have since accepted its importance.
A disease (in fact, a number of different diseases) that affects your memory and ability to think.
Medication that a doctor has ordered you to take.


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