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- Author: Jennifer Crane x
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What does it mean when we say that we ‘love’ the NHS? How do different public groups ascribe meaning to this service? When do feelings about the NHS, such as love or fear, turn to action, such as protest? This chapter makes close investigation of a group which has not yet been subject to sustained academic consideration: NHS campaigners and activists. It analyses archival materials from the campaign groups London Health Emergency, the Politics of Health Group, and Spare Rib alongside a new survey of 175 self-identified ‘NHS campaigners’, offering over 38,000 words of rich new qualitative data. Tracing campaigners’ feelings in a structured way helps us to unpick complexities in broader public attitudes. If even the views of this relatively small and focused group, with strong passions about the NHS, are fractured, divided, and complex, then this highlights clear difficulties with making bold assertions that ‘everyone’ ‘loves’ the NHS. Furthermore, looking at the views of this group helps us to think about the relationships between publics and state institutions. Studying this group, which has some of the strongest attachments to the NHS, begins to demonstrate when, why, and how members of the public develop ‘love’ for institutions; when members of the public will challenge state provision; and, more broadly, how forms of lay expertise thus come into collaboration and conflict with political and media power.
The National Health Service (NHS) officially ‘opened’ across Britain in 1948. It replaced a patchy system of charity and local providers, and made healthcare free at the point of use. Over the subsequent decades, the NHS was vested with cultural meaning, and even love. By 1992, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson declared that the service was ‘the closest thing the English have to a religion’. Yet in 2016, a physician publishing in the British Medical Journal asked whether the service was, in fact, a ‘national religion or national football’, referring to the complex politics of healthcare. Placards, posters, and prescriptions radically illuminates the multiple meanings of the NHS, in public life and culture, over its seventy years of life. The book charts how this institution has been ignored, worshipped, challenged, and seen as under threat throughout its history. It analyses changing cultural representations and patterns of public behaviour that have emerged, and the politics and everyday life of health. By looking at the NHS through the lenses of labour, activism, consumerism, space, and representation, this collection showcases the depth and potential of cultural history. This approach can explain how and why the NHS has become the defining institution of contemporary Britain.
The National Health Service (NHS) officially ‘opened’ across Britain on 5 July 1948, replacing a previous and patchy system of charity and local providers and making healthcare free at the point of use for all. By 1974, Barbara Castle stated: ‘Intrinsically the National Health Service is a church. It is the nearest thing to the embodiment of the Good Samaritan that we have in any respect of our public policy.’ This comparison crossed decades and party lines: in 1992 the former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson declared that the service was ‘the closest thing the English have to a religion’. By 2016, a physician publishing in the British Medical Journal asked whether the service was, in fact, a ‘national religion or national football’, paying testament to media and public critique which began at the service’s very inception. Posters, protests, and prescriptions provides a series of case studies which ask: what have the multiple meanings of the NHS been, in public life and culture? What cultural representations and changing patterns of individual behaviour emerge when an institution is simultaneously worshipped, challenged, and seen as under threat throughout its history? By looking at ‘culture’ in a variety of ways – through labour, activism, consumerism, space, and representation – this collection provides important historical insights into how and why the NHS has become a defining institution in contemporary Britain, frequently leading polls to define what Britons are ‘most proud’ of.