In 1953 I became a student nurse at the Royal West Sussex Hospital, in Chichester. The National Health Service had been founded in 1948. Before that time, people who wanted treatment usually had to pay for it and for any medicines. The exceptions were some charity hospitals and, in a few cities, teaching hospitals. There was a National Insurance Scheme, but it only covered employed people who had been able to build up a record of contributions. It did not generally extend to the cost of any medicines that might be prescribed. Many people simply had to endure illness and many lived in fear of becoming ill.
I can still remember the hierarchy in the hospital and the ward sister telling me off for saying “good morning” to a doctor. I remember cleaning everything I could reach above floor level with dilute carbolic.
I also remember patients on the wards saying that they would never have been able to afford to have hospital treatment; they were truly amazed by their good fortune. Many of them still paid their doctors in kind with vegetables, eggs, or a chicken, at least those who lived in the countryside. Every morning windows were thrown open wide to air the wards. This was called perflation. There was no central heating in those days.
Many people will have no recollection of the relief that such a free service gave to everyone in this country. I for one would be made extremely anxious if this service were to be taken over by huge health consortia whose primary objective was to make money for shareholders and where service was provided only for those with a valid credit card. Doctors are trained to diagnose and to heal people, they are not trained to administer finance and I am afraid that they will buy in managers to do this for them. This is the open door for privatising the NHS. Is this what people want?