In each episode, patients and staff from all over the country tell deeply personal stories that chart the highs and lows of the National Health Service’s 70-year history.
Episode one covers the first quarter century of the service. It includes the graduation certificate of a doctor who only qualified on the NHS’s first day and yet was thrown straight into surgery; one of the last remaining roadworthy Invacars, a specialist vehicle adapted for disabled drivers that was handed out for free in the 60s; and even a tiny booklet listing a family’s expenditure on doctor’s fees – a stark reminder of life before the NHS.
Patients and staff tell their experiences of how the NHS was not immune from the prejudices of 1960s Britain. Actress Joan Hooley shares a copy of an episode of ITV drama Emergency Ward 10, where her role as a hospital doctor – who happened to be both a woman and black – sent shockwaves through society. And we see how an ornate mirror, and the mysterious death of its owner’s grandmother, casts a light on a British class system that allowed some GPs to operate with alarmingly little oversight.
But as the decades progressed, it was clear that free access to medical care was dramatically improving the health of the nation. Among the examples here, the daughter of a GP unfurls a scroll of records of every case of childhood disease he treated – fascinating primary evidence of the monumental impact of the nation’s first NHS-funded vaccine campaign.
The NHS: A People’s History, July 2, BBC Four, 9pm