The Birth of the NHS Reel History of Britain


The Birth of the NHS

Melvyn Bragg reveals archive footage telling the history of modern Britain. A look back to 1948 and the formation of the NHS.


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Transcript


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Just over a century ago, the motion camera was invented

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and changed for ever the way we recall our history.

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For the first time, we could see life through the eyes of ordinary people.

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Across this series, we will bring these rare archive films back to life

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with the help of our vintage mobile cinema.

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We'll be inviting people with a story to tell to step onboard

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and relive moments they thought were gone for ever.

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They'll see their relatives on screen for the first time,

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come face to face with their younger selves

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and celebrate our amazing 20th-century past.

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This is the people's story, our story.

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Our vintage mobile cinema was originally commissioned in 1967 to show training films to workers.

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Today it's been lovingly restored and loaded up with remarkable film footage,

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preserved for us by the British Film Institute and other national and regional film archives.

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In this series, we'll be travelling to towns and cities across the country

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and showing films from the 20th century that give us the real history of Britain.

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Today, we're pulling up in 1948...

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..the year NHS was created,

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marking one of the most important social changes of the 20th century.

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We're parking our van outside the College of Medical and Dental Sciences in Birmingham.

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It's more than 60 years since the National Health Service was launched,

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and the principles underlying it are today as fundamental as they ever were.

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We're going back to the beginning.

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Coming up, a childhood memory of Health Secretary Nye Bevan

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on the day he announced the birth of the NHS...

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And I remember him sitting up in bed

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in his striped pyjamas, and my mother said, "Well, you've got a bit of a cold. Don't go too close,

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"because he has a very important speech to make."

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..A remarkable claim to fame...

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I was the first baby born into the National Health Service in Great Britain.

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..And one of Britain's top nurses on arriving from Barbados to start her training.

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I loved being a nurse.

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The people with whom I worked saw my potential and encouraged me.

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This medical school is where they train doctors and nurses here in Birmingham.

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The modern NHS treats three million patients a week,

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that's 150 million people a year,

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and costs £106 billion to run.

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We're in Birmingham because the Queen Elizabeth Hospital nearby

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is one of the newest and most advanced in the country,

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and it's all thanks to something that happened in 1948.

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Before the birth of the NHS, you either paid for healthcare,

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relied on charity or, in many cases, went without.

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But Labour's landslide victory in 1945

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led to a new era of social responsibility.

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And within three years

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free healthcare for all was on its way.

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The man charged with making it happen was the working-class Welsh Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan.

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A massive task lay ahead to provide buildings, people and equipment,

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but on July 5th 1948 Nye Bevan's NHS was born.

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All day, our mobile cinema here in Birmingham

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will be screening rare films made during the early days of the NHS.

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Nurses, doctors and patients have come from all over the country

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to share with us their personal stories of those frontier days.

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June Rosen from Wilmslow in Cheshire was just eight in 1948.

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Her parents were heavily involved in the campaign to get the NHS off the ground.

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I know that my parents were very delighted about it.

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My mother was a doctor's daughter

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and she really appreciated what that would mean.

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My father didn't have a medical background, he was a politician.

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My mother said it was a wonderful time to be in politics,

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we really felt we could build the new Jerusalem.

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What have you brought? It's like having a birthday!

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This is a photograph of me and my father when I was that age.

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June's father, Leslie Lever,

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was a close friend and colleague of the Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan,

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who stayed with their family the day before he launched the NHS.

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June's about to recall the day Aneurin Bevan stayed at her home.

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How will she feel 63 years later, remembering the part her parents played on that historic day?

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My father was very active in political life,

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and after the War and all the poverty in the '30s, they wanted to make big changes.

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And we had a spare room, so people used to come and stay.

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On the night of July 4th, June remembers hearing Aneurin Bevan and her father talking together.

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When it was supper time, I'd gone to bed, but he was such a dynamic man,

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and they were discussing it as politicians do, long into the night, and arguing it this way and that.

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Then the big day dawned.

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On July 5th, the new National Health Service starts,

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providing hospital and specialist services,

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medicines, drugs and appliances, care of the teeth and eyes...

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The young June went to wake up Aneurin Bevan.

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I remember my mother saying I could go with her to take him breakfast in bed.

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And I remember him sitting up in bed in his striped pyjamas,

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and my mother said, "Well, you've got a bit of a cold. Don't go too close,

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"because he has a very important speech to make."

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No film of Bevan's July 5th speech launching the NHS in 1948 remains,

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but the day is etched indelibly on June's memory.

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I so much remember him sitting there

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and my mother carrying in the tray and putting it on his knee in bed,

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and that picture is as clear in my mind today as it was then really.

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1948 saw the start in Britain of a great social experiment,

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the National Health Service,

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a state medical service which everyone in Britain is entitled to use.

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Its costs, met mainly from taxation and direct contributions, so that the expense of necessary treatment

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is no longer an obstacle to any who may need it.

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While it comprises many services, its backbone is the 23,000 doctors who practise medicine...

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So, meeting Bevan made a big impression on June.

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I think he had a vision. He'd known such poverty in the Valleys as a young man.

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People couldn't get any care for their children and their families,

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and I think he just wanted to change that, and it was a remarkable thing.

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I don't think the full magnitude of it dawns when you're eight,

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but I did know that it was something very special.

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June went on to become a physiotherapist,

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and she's remained committed to the NHS all her life, just like her parents.

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Your father and his brother were MPs

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and then he went on to be Mayor of Manchester,

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so the political involvement was massive and the political will to do it was strong,

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-so did you feel that coming through to you?

-Yes, I did.

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I'd always been part of this. I think I went to the election, I went to the count when I was three,

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because they couldn't find a babysitter, and it never stopped after that.

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It was a constant part of my life.

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Well, Aneurin Bevan is a political hero to me too,

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and today on Reel History we're in Birmingham to mark what he achieved.

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After years of political struggle, 2,751 hospitals were handed over to the National Health Service

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on July 5th 1948.

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With me are some people who have close links to that day,

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and none more so than Aneira Thomas from Swansea.

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Aneira's a nurse, just like her grandmother and her three sisters.

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She also has a unique claim to NHS fame.

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I was the first baby born into the National Health Service in Great Britain.

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My mother used to relate the story

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about having a long hard labour, on her seventh child,

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and she was about to give birth around midnight on July 4th,

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when she was waiting to hear the words, "Push! Push!"

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And instead the doctors were shouting, "Hold on, Edna, hold on!"

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And she must have held on one minute for me to be born into the National Health Service...

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so, very special.

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-And they asked my mother could they name me Aneira after the founder...

-After Aneurin Bevan?

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-Yes.

-The great Aneurin Bevan.

-And she liked the name,

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and after seven children I think she'd started running out of names!

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Aneira's about to watch rarely seen film of the days before the NHS.

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How will she feel to be reminded of the hardships her pregnant mother faced?

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I think my mother said she'd have had to find one shilling and sixpence to pay for my birth,

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and then, I suppose, that was a lot of money.

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But my father was a miner and probably earning about £2, I should think.

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Before the NHS, four out of five women had to give birth without pain relief.

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I was lucky enough to be born in the hospital

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and hence, you know, they didn't have to pay after that.

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Pain relief was available, but costly, before the NHS,

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and Aneira's mother told her sad stories of how her family suffered as a result.

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I remember her saying that her mother died of cancer

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and there was no pain relief.

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And she remembers all the children, seven of them, around her deathbed, you know.

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Then the doctor had to be paid and there was no money,

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and the only thing that they could sell was the family piano.

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I can't imagine if you had to phone 999, an ambulance,

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and having to check your purse to see if you've got enough money to pay.

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We are very, very lucky to have the National Health Service,

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and I think we are the envy of the world.

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Aneira and her family are lifelong supporters of the NHS,

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and have dedicated their working lives to it.

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There's four nurses in our family, so there's always nurses in and out of the house, you know.

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I remember my own sisters dressed like that and my aunts with the hats on.

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It brought back a lot of memories of my childhood, you know.

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For me, Aneira's arrival in the world represents all that's best about our Health Service.

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Within ten years of the NHS being introduced,

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infant mortality had almost halved, life expectancy had gone up six years,

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and infectious diseases had dropped by 80%.

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In the 1940s, women were almost 50 times more likely to die from giving birth than they are today.

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63 years after Aneira became the first NHS baby,

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I'm off to meet one of the latest arrivals born just this morning

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under the guiding hand of one of the hospital's midwives, Antoinette Connolly.

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Hello.

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-Hi, how are you doing? Nice to meet you.

-How are you? Nice to meet you.

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So, how long have you been working in the National Health Service?

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Oh, in the National Health Service? Well, in the Women's Hospital, 30 years in September!

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And how have things changed in what you do?

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Er...they've changed quite a lot.

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To begin with the number of patients that we have through the door has increased.

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We've almost doubled the birth rate.

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It was about 4,500 when I first started 30 years ago,

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and it's 7,000-plus now.

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And with the advance in midwifery and in obstetrics,

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we're caring for more complex patients, delivering babies earlier,

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so, obviously, the workload's increased. Very interesting, though.

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-Did you deliver the first baby of the Millennium?

-I did!

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-I knew that, you see!

-My claim to fame.

-It was an unnecessary question.

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The funny thing is, my mum, who lives in the West of Ireland, in a little village,

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had heard before I finished my nightshift to get home to tell her

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that I had actually been the midwife who delivered the Millennium baby! How cool is that?

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-Now, you've been at it again today?

-Oh, we've been at it again today!

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-We've been very busy.

-Can we see what you've been doing?

-Yes, you can. You want to see my patient? Brilliant.

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Of course we can!

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-Hello!

-Hi.

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-How are you doing?

-Hello.

-Aren't you looking well from this morning?

-Thank you.

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How are you, my darling? Well done.

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She picked a very busy morning to come into us, didn't you?

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How are you doing, Dad? And we've got the name now, I hear?

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-Madison.

-Oh, look! This is our famous little Madison!

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I mean, if she can't be a star on the day she's born...!

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-I know!

-It's the least of things.

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So far, Madison is the youngest guest we've had on Reel History.

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But we've another first here in Birmingham today,

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the son of the first NHS patient.

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Dr Clive Diggory has come here from North Yorkshire

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and brought along a picture of his mother at that time.

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-And that is...?

-That's my mother.

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Sylvia Beckingham, as she was then, Diggory as she became,

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and that's the Minister of Health Nye Bevan

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and that was the Matron of Park Hospital in Davyhulme, Manchester,

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where my mum was an inpatient, and had actually been in hospital just under a year when this was taken.

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So she was known as the first patient of the National Health Service?

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-Quite an important photograph for your mother, I'd have thought.

-It was.

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-She remained a big fan of Nye Bevan, and could quote extracts of his speeches and so on.

-Yeah.

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When I was applying to university, or thinking about going to university,

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I initially wanted to do engineering, like my father,

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and she was really keen for me to go into medicine,

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and I never fully really twigged this until events unfolded later on.

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She turned you away from engineering into...

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Well, she filled my UCCA form in, actually!

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So that was the job done, really.

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I was playing football and she filled my form in!

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-And said you were going to be a doctor, not an engineer?

-Yes.

-While you were playing football?

-Yes.

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As well as patients and doctors, there are the NHS nurses.

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Also on our red carpet in Birmingham today are three nurses who joined the NHS in the early days

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and trained here in Birmingham at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

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This is me in 1955.

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-You in 1955?

-Yes.

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I've just got my State Badge, so I was entitled to wear a long cap.

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-What have you got?

-That was me in 1952.

-That's lovely, isn't it?

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-Lovely.

-1952.

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-Did you think the training you got was good training?

-Oh, it was brilliant.

-What was good about it?

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We were trained to be good, caring nurses.

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We're going to take our nurses back to a time they didn't think they'd see again.

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Jeanette Griffith is about to watch the very recruitment film

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that inspired her to become one of the first people to sign up for nurse training

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when she was a young woman all those years ago.

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Will it move her just as much today?

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Student Nurse, that had been made by the Central Office of Information,

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and it had been made for recruitment because recruitment was a big problem for nursing then.

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We'd gone to the cinema one Saturday,

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and the cinema in those days, it wasn't just two films, it was a whole programme of films.

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And we watched this film and I thought, it looks a nice place and it's out in the country,

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and my father said, "I didn't really want you to go to London.

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"You've got your aunt and uncle in Birmingham. I wouldn't mind that."

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So I applied and here I came.

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During their training, they'll live in the student nurses' quarters.

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But there's nothing institutional about their new home...

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The Government needed 30,000 nurses to staff the new NHS.

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This recruitment film was made by the British Council

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at the old Queen Elizabeth Hospital here in Birmingham

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to show how great nursing in Britain was going to be.

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On duty a nurse is just a small part of a perfectly working machine.

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The first few months have enabled both the student

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and the trained hospital staff to make up their minds - will this girl make a good nurse?

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It's a question of how well she's shaping.

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If we weren't pulling our socks up and doing as we ought,

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she would have us in, have a little chat,

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but there was never anything ferocious about it.

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If you had behaved badly,

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she would be very straight but very fair.

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And you knew you weren't going to do it again.

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Training begins. It's the little external things that cause the first flutters of excitement,

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uniforms worn for the first time,

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the button overlooked and done up just at the last moment,

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the cap that won't stay straight.

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Appearance was most important,

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and Jeanette was lucky enough to be one of the first to benefit from a makeover by Royal Appointment.

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We thought we were rather special, because apparently the first matron to the hospital,

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she had decided that nurses needed better uniforms.

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The idea was taken to Norman Hartnell, the Queen's dressmaker,

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and he in fact designed the dresses,

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and they were made up in spring-flower colours.

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Jeanette proudly wore her smart new uniform and became a big supporter of free healthcare for all.

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We felt everybody deserved to have a good service that was equal for everyone.

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And patients appreciated it. Very often their circumstances were poor,

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and they were being properly looked after and given the chance to get better

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and to be able to get back to work.

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It was something that wouldn't have been available to them before.

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The recruitment drive for nurses continued into the '50s.

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In the next raft of trainees here in Birmingham were Anne Carol Carrington

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and her sister Marion Scott.

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Having trained at this very hospital,

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they may even recognise some of the people who appear in this film.

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That's what it was like.

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The sister tutor and the home sister welcome them with reassuring friendliness.

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It was Miss Collett who was the home sister who greeted the nurses.

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And then there was the tutor, Miss Bonford.

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The sister tutor tells them about their future work.

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She speaks of the self-discipline that makes a nurse dependable

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and competent to deal with any emergency.

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The age of majority was 21, and we started at 18,

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so there had to be rules and regulations,

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because they were responsible for your moral and spiritual welfare, as well as your training,

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so they took it very seriously.

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We'd go out on a pass until 10 o'clock at night,

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and once a month we were allowed a pass until 11 o'clock at night!

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But you had to go to Matron and ask for it, and you couldn't get married.

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"To your patients," she says, "you are the nearest link with the outside world."

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Most of those people had a lot more hair than I can remember us having!

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A lot more hair! And that surprised me quite a bit, actually.

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-It was...hairstyles were different earlier, weren't they?

-Well, perhaps they were, but...

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it still seemed to me a lot of hair.

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You weren't allowed to have hair showing.

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Birmingham was a pioneering nursing school.

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And Anne Carol and Marion are reminded how their studies mixed academic lectures

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with the purely vocational training of the past, sometimes with a few surprises in the closet...

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One of the first-year subjects is anatomy.

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We certainly had not seen a complete skeleton like that, so you didn't know really what to expect.

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It was quite jolly, really. A skeleton in the cupboard!

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Today, NHS nurses are rarely responsible for more than 15 patients each.

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When Anne Carol and Marion qualified, they could be responsible for many more,

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some a little more difficult than others.

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Oh, you got frisky patients! You had to be careful with some of them.

0:24:050:24:09

You had to remember our skirts, although they were quite long, actually...

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-you had to be very careful of bending over certain people's beds!

-Oh, yes!

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Trained, skilled,

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utterly reliable,

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the nurse develops both as an individual and a willing servant of humanity,

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her future devoted to an honoured service.

0:24:270:24:31

Today, on Reel History, we're celebrating the birth of the National Health Service

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in Birmingham. This fantastic new Queen Elizabeth Hospital cost £545 million.

0:24:510:24:58

It's the culmination, I suppose, of over 60 years of commitment to our Health Service.

0:25:000:25:05

And none have played a greater role than our nurses.

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As the decades went by, the NHS needed to keep on recruiting them,

0:25:100:25:16

so they started to look further afield.

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There was a big recruitment drive overseas looking for men and women willing to come over here

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and work in our system. One of those women was Nola Ishmael.

0:25:250:25:30

Nola came to Britain from Barbados in 1963,

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and trained at the Whittington Hospital in London.

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The British Council came to Barbados to recruit nurses and we were very persuaded, I have to tell you.

0:25:400:25:46

And we came in our droves and we went to different hospitals across the country,

0:25:460:25:53

and our aim, whatever it took, we were going to train and become a State Registered Nurse,

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-that was our ambition.

-How did you find it here?

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I loved it.

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I loved being a nurse.

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And I was fortunate that the people with whom I worked saw my potential and encouraged me.

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We worked to achieve.

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Our parents back home expected us to pass our exams.

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They expected us to do well and to send them photographs of the different changes of uniforms

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or any prizes that we may have won.

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They were expected from us and we delivered.

0:26:320:26:36

Nola became one of Britain's top nurses, receiving an OBE in 2000,

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and dedicating over 40 years of her life to the NHS.

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The NHS established itself,

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and did you feel a mood in the country that they were very proud of this NHS system

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and that people felt it was theirs?

0:26:520:26:55

Yes, indeed. We did what we had to do, worked hard,

0:26:550:26:59

and ensured things were as good as we could make them,

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given the limits of the treatment available.

0:27:030:27:07

-The introduction of the National Health Service, what did it change?

-For the first time,

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you had coherence, systems, you had policies and procedures,

0:27:120:27:17

everybody working to the same direction to make things better for people.

0:27:170:27:23

When the NHS started in 1948, hospitals treated almost 4 million inpatients.

0:27:320:27:39

Today, that number has more than tripled.

0:27:390:27:42

We've come a long way since the days of Aneurin Bevan.

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There's no doubt from the people I've talked to

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that everybody involved had a passion for it. It was their NHS.

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One man, Aneurin Bevan, had the vision to put it over and people wanted it.

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He made them think they owned it, and they do!

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Next time on Reel History...

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..we're in Glasgow, remembering Britain's shipbuilders in the '30s.

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Down here, right below here, there were 10,000 people at work on this one yard,

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not on the Clyde as a whole, just on this one yard.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

0:28:430:28:47

Melvyn Bragg, accompanied by a vintage mobile cinema, travels across the country to show incredible footage preserved by the British Film Institute and other national and regional film archives, and to tell the history of modern Britain.

This episode comes from the College of Medical and Dental Sciences in Birmingham and looks back to 1948 and the formation of the NHS.

June Rosen shares a childhood memory of serving breakfast to the health secretary Nye Bevan on the day he announced the birth of the NHS, while Aneira Thomas reveals her remarkable claim to fame: she was the first baby born on the NHS. And one of Britain's top nurses, Nola Ishmael, shares her experiences on arriving from Barbados to start her training.


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