The NHS promised free health care at the point of access
The NHS promised free health care at the point of access

The National Health Service came into existence in 1948. It gave all citizens of the United Kingdom health care coverage, with the cost covered purely by taxation.

Continuing a Plan

William Beveridge
William Beveridge

Although the NHS came into existence in 1948, it was a plan that had been in place since a report in 1942 (The Beveridge Report). This report suggested Britain should give health care to all its citizens.

The NHS was a continuation of the 1911 National Insurance Act, which gave medical coverage to workers (part paid by the worker, part by the government) and benefits to the unemployed.

1944 White Paper

The NHS was formally proposed in a government white paper
The NHS was formally proposed in a government white paper

There had been some disagreement about exactly what the NHS should involve. A 1944 white paper finally stated the principles of the NHS:

Services were provided free at the point of use
Services were financed from central taxation
Everyone was eligible for care (even people temporarily resident or visiting the country)

The paper said local councils should look after medical care.

A New Government

Aneurin Bevan
Aneurin Bevan

Before the 1945 General Election the Labour Party promised to introduce the NHS.

They duly won, with Clement Attlee replacing Winston Churchill as the Prime Minister.

Aneurin Bevan was given the job of setting up the NHS. He looked at a 1944 report that suggested local councils managed health care. Deciding this would not work – local councils had neither the money nor organisation – he said there had to be a national service.

Bevan is often called the ‘father of the NHS’, although the title is also given to William Beveridge who wrote the 1942 report.

The NHS Begins

England, Scotland and Wales all had separate NHS acts, but they were all introduced around the same time. By 1950 all had the NHS.

The Spirit of ’45

The NHS is part of a movement now labelled ‘The Spirit of ’45’ in which Britain attempted to country a fairer post-war country. Millions had died in the war and it was felt a better, more caring society was needed.


The UK was not the first country to introduce universal health care: the USSR had it in 1937, but it did not cover the countryside.

New Zealand was the first country to manage complete universal health care, introducing it from 1937 to 1941.