Strength in Numbers dedicated to my late mother Kay

Nye Bevan’s dream: a history of the NHS

In 1946 the health minister strode into a Manchester hospital to launch a free healthcare service that has brought innovation and controversy ever since

Almost 68 years after its creation, the National Health Service’s founding principles remain intact: it continues to be funded from general taxation and free at the point of use. Here are some of the key moments in its history, with contemporary reports from the Guardian and Observer archive.


The NHS was born was 5th July 1948. On that day, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians, dentists and hospitals came together for the first time as one giant UK-wide organisation. It was inaugurated when Aneurin “Nye” Bevan, the health minister who was its far-sighted creator, visited Park hospital in Davyhulme, Manchester. It is now Trafford general hospital and is known as “the birthplace of the NHS” as the first NHS hospital.

On that day Bevan met the NHS’s first patient, 13-year-old Sylvia Diggory, who had acute nephritis, a life-threatening liver condition. Later, Diggory recalled: “Mr Bevan asked me if I understood the significance of the occasion and told me that it was a milestone in history – the most civilised step any country had ever taken. I had earwigged at adults’ conversations and I knew this was a great change that was coming about and that most people could hardly believe this was happening.” It had huge public support, though the British Medical Association, the doctors’ union, was still threatening to boycott it until as late as February 1948.

Click on the link to read more of the history of the NHS from 1948 – 2014



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