Exploring 70 Years of the British National Health Service through Anniversary Documents

Document Type: Perspective

Author

Health Services Management Centre, School of Social Policy, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

Abstract

The British National Health Service (NHS) celebrates its 70th birthday on July 5, 2018. This article examines this anniversary through the lens of previous anniversaries. It examines seven documents close to each anniversary over a period of some 60 years, drawing on interpretive content analysis, based on the narrative dimensions of context (structure and finance); success or achievements; problems; and solutions or recommendations. It finds that the anniversary documents tend to show change rather than consistency. For example, the Guillebaud Report tended to dismiss the problem of ageing populations, for it to reappear in 1979 and 1989, to fade in 2009, and reappear once more in 2017. Despite being downplayed or ignored in some years, the problems identified by most of the documents such as demography and technology are unlikely to disappear. Some solutions such as market-based reform have flowed and ebbed over the years, and the ‘solution’ of structural reorganisation in one year has become the ‘problem’ in a future year. While predicting the future is always hazardous, it can be said with some confidence that future anniversaries are likely to see discussion of similar themes.

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