The Start of the NHS

The 5th of July 1948 was the first day of the NHS. Aneurin Bevan, the Health Secretary, launched the NHS at Park Hospital in Manchester (today it is known as Trafford General Hospital).  I have always know the NHS, as have my parents, however my grandparents knew a time before the NHS.

I spoke to my Grandfather to ask what he thought about the NHS, what he was up to in 1948 and if he had any memories of pre NHS.

My Grandfather trained as a Dentist and graduated in 1945. After his training he was called up to serve in the Army Dental Corps and got posted to Palestine. Here he served in a Parachute Field Ambulance Unit parachuting out to soldiers in the field to provide dental treatment. He was serving in Palestine in 1948 so does not have any first-hand memories of the start of the NHS.

Operations on the Kitchen table

He does, however, remember the difficult pre NHS days when care was expensive. He recalls as a boy having three operations on the kitchen table at home by the GP. They could not afford to see a consultant or go into hospital so the GP was the cheap option. The operations included a tonsillectomy, a procedure to release the puss out of his ear and treating a large wound on his left hand requiring anesthetic and stitches. The family would have paid all the cost, they did not have insurance.

It would have been a constant worry to his family about how they would afford the bill if health care were needed.

Voluntary and Local Authority Hospitals

Before the NHS there were two types of hospitals – Voluntary Hospitals and Local Authority hospitals. The Voluntary Hospitals were reliant on private funding. The consultants often worked for free, but they got a good reputation as a result. They networked with the students and staff and then got private referrals for work. The standard of care was not as good at the Local Authority hospitals that were often associated with the old workhouses. The Voluntary Hospitals were often hard to get into. If you needed an operation in a hospital you would have to go into a nursing home and pay for all the nursing care as well. As care was expensive, when the NHS started there was a large backlog of work that needed doing. Prior to the NHS, the poor would often have gone without care.

Catch up care

During the first 15 years of the NHS my Grandfather worked in the South West of England as a Consultant Oral Surgeon. He was responsible for an area from Torquay to the Isles of Scilly. There was a lot of neglected pathology (such as huge tumours) which needed treating. This lead to a lot of pressure on the new health service to catch up with all the neglect. During his time in the South West he grew the services and when he moved on there were consultant oral surgery and orthodontic services in each clinical area in the southwest peninsula.

The old medical school where my grandpa trained and the new hospital where I work (on the same site!)


The NHS brought about huge changes, people that had never had treatment before came forward.  The NHS was definitely a good thing with healthcare free at the point of care and equal rights for everyone.

Let’s hope we can find a way to keep it. The NHS has been very successful which means people are living longer and then needing other kinds of health and social care. Consequently, the pressure on the NHS is growing and new ways of working are needed to address this.

Appreciate your NHS, don’t take it for granted, remember your appointments, don’t waste money that could have been spent on something else!