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The Three and Sixpenny Doctor

Development of the National Health Service During the 1940s

World War II and Beveridge

In 1941, the Coalition Government decided that the health and well-being of the British public would need rebuilding after World War II. William Beveridge was commissioned to assess the situation.

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The Beveridge Report (1942) identified five key problems: the ‘giant evils of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness'. It advocated a system of social welfare which would incorporate a national health service, national insurance and assistance and family allowances. It was believed that good health would mean full employment and increased industrial production, and that ultimately the health service would pay for itself.

Lance Corporal Bill Notman, with other servicemen 1946-47

(Photo, LMA archive)

State-organised free health care

The post-war Labour Government passed the Health Service Act in 1946 which legislated for the start of the National Health Service on 5th July 1948. Health care would be ‘free to all who want to use it'. However, the progress to a fully comprehensive free health system was not, according to Aneurin Bevan, entirely ‘trouble free'. The government faced criticism from the medical profession, 75% of whom opposed the proposals. The British Medical Association was accused of organised sabotage. General Practitioners did not want to become full-time employees of the state and argued that this would lead to state interference in their work. Eventually agreement was reached. The nursing profession was not involved in the consultation process but editorials in the Nursing Mirror and Nursing Times in 1945/6 were in favour of the new scheme.

Advert in The Scotsman, 1939

Doctor's Visits

'My mother always gave the doctor a glass of sherry.'

‘The fuss that was made in the house, when the doctor was called; it was a big event. It was something you paid for and so something you appreciated. The patient was scrubbed within an inch of his life, and new sheets were put on the bed and everything was ironed, stiffened.’

Charles Mercer, born 1929

‘The doctor was a big, broad man, very dour, but he was a good doctor. He aye prescribed aspirins. That was how he got the nickname Aspirin Willie.’

Ruby Norman, born 1935

‘When we did house calls we carried cardboard boxes of medications. After the consultation we handed them out to the patients. We were given three different colours of aspirin tablets: white, yellow and green. And the idea was that the patient would say, - No, these white ones hadn't done me any good, doctor. So you left them a bottle of green ones and the next week perhaps they might say, - Oh these are a lot better .'

Dr Tom Miller, born 1927

A medicine bottle labelled only as ‘The Tablets’
(Photo, LMA Archives)

North Cannongate School, New Street, 1923.
Two barefoot boys in the front row.

(Photo, LMA archive)

‘She was choked and I called the doctor and he came and says, - I don't really know what's happened so I dinnae know what to prescribe. Ten o'clock that night the bell went and here's the doctor standing. and he says, - I've been out with my wife and just was remarking about your wee one, how she was so unwell, so I've come back to see her. Turns out it was asthma.’

Jess Robertson, born 1909

‘The doctor was well respected. He was looked upon like a minister. Most o' them, especially in a workin' class area, were strugglin' to make a livin'. And they'd wives and families to bring up too, but half the folk couldnae pay them. It was all right if they managed to become a panel doctor, they would get so much per patient.’

George Hackland, born 1920