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The Three and Sixpenny Doctor

5th July 1948 - Birth of the National Health Service

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Pamphlet published by HMSO 1948 (© HMSO)
(Image, Lothian Health Services Archive, Edinburgh University Library, slide 2011)

MMR X-Ray, Warriston Close, High Street, 1955
(Photo, Lothian Health Services Archive,
Edinburgh University Library, TB slide 137)

The Start of the NHS

'There was a sense o' everybody wanting everything done for them for nothing.'

Medical Out Patients’ Waiting Area, Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, 1950 (Photo, City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries Collection)

‘There was a tremendous run on the services after the NHS. Everybody got false teeth and spectacles. Specs and teeth.’
Charles and Netta Mercer born 1929, 1930

‘When the men came home from the war they wanted things to be better. People needed houses and health care, and something needed to be sorted out.’
Astley Ainslie Hospital, memory of the 1940s

‘I remember in a very early locum job, in a small country practice, being left in a branch surgery with a pad for prescriptions. I was faced by a large, perfectly healthy, man who sat down and wanted a prescription for cotton wool. He said, - It's just for the hoose. In other words people were, to some extent, taking advantage of the fact that medicines were now free. He pressurised me by his personality. And I confess that I wrote that prescription.’
Dr Tom Miller, born 1927

‘We were all grateful when the NHS came. People’s health started to get a bit better. But a lot of people played on it.’
Jo Laing, born 1925

‘When the NHS came in, what came to light was that there was a lot of women with gynaecological problems, a terrible amount of prolapsed wombs that had never been treated. People could not afford to go to the doctor.’
Audrey Soutar, born 1934

Ward 9, Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, 1943
(Photo, City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries Collection)

The New Health Service

Free health care was now available for all. The public needed to be informed about the new, integrated service. A publicity campaign was launched, which included films and exhibitions. A leaflet, Your Health Service and How It Will Work, was published, explaining what the main principles were and how it would be funded.

What the NHS offered

Consultations with family doctors; prescriptions; hospital treatment; dental services; eye testing and spectacles, and hearing aids were all free. Ancillary services including nursing, midwifery and child health were expanded. Everyone received a medical card and, by the end of 1948, 94% of Scots were registered with a GP. Only 2% of GPs had not joined the scheme.

Prevention of disease

One of the primary goals was the promotion of good health. With improved physical and mental well being, the population would increase its economic productivity which would benefit the whole country and reduce the need for treatment of illness.

Polio and diphtheria vaccination programmes were introduced and mass radiography campaigns for TB were extended. Other health improvements resulted from the availability of new drugs, particularly antibiotics like penicillin and streptomycin.

Improved health

Life expectancy and infant mortality improved in the 1950s but the increasing costs of new treatments and technology, and the discovery of ‘new’ diseases, put pressure on the scheme, making some of the original objectives difficult to achieve.

During its sixty years, the NHS has undergone several reorganisations but has continued to provide care and treatment for all.