The National Health Service was one of the major achievements of Atlee’s Labour government. The National Health Service (NHS) was introduced in in 1948. This service provided free medical treatment for everyone. The driving force behind the NHS was Aneurin Bevan, Minister of Health.
In 1911, the National Health Insurance system provided medical care for 21 million people (according to Bevan) but left the rest of the population having to pay for medical treatment. It became clear to both Beveridge and the Labour Party that people were being denied medical help simply because they could not afford to pay.
The majority of doctors were opposed to the introduction of the NHS as they believed that they would lose money as a result of it. Their main opposition to the NHS was their belief that their professional freedom would be jeopardised i.e. that they would treat fewer private patients and, as a result, lose out financially. They also believed that the NHS would not allow patients to pick their doctor – though this proved to be an unfounded worry.
Once the NHS was introduced, it did prove to be popular with most people. 95% of all of the medical profession joined the NHS. In fact, the NHS proved to be too popular as it quickly found that its resources were being used up. From its earliest days, the NHS seemed to be short of money. Annual sums put aside for treatment such as dental surgery and glasses were quickly used up. The £2 million put aside to pay for free spectacles over the first nine months of the NHS went in six weeks. The government had estimated that the NHS would cost £140 million a year by 1950. In fact, by 1950 the NHS was costing £358 million.
However, the popularity of the NHS meant that in the 1950 election, the Conservatives promised to keep it – though this was of little importance as Labour won that election.
In 1951, the Labour government introduced a charge for some dental treatment (free false teeth) and for prescriptions for medicine. Aneurin Bevan resigned from the government in protest at this. Bevan wanted a free health service and nothing else.