Thursday, 5 July 2018

Bevan: fake history

There is probably nothing one can do now to stop the myth rolled out by BBC Wales and the Labour Party now that Aneurin Bevan was the sole begetter of the National Health Service and that it was based on the Tredegar Working Men's Aid Society. Bevan certainly deserves his place in history as the man who put the UK's NHS into operation. Indeed, without him, it is unlikely that it would have emerged as a comprehensive service, if at all. It takes nothing away from him to point out that the roots of the NHS go back a long way, and that it was Beveridge's inclusion of a template for the NHS in his famous 1942 report, followed by the latter's adept use of the media, which forced Whitehall to accept it.

As I wrote last February,

 In fact, the Tredegar scheme is one of a long line of insurance-based healthcare systems that go back to Bismarck's Germany and continue in France, Germany, some other western countries and Japan to this day. The unique and praiseworthy aspect of the Tredegar scheme was that it arose from within the community rather than being imposed by the government. The English NHS model was unique at the time - though it has since been followed elsewhere - in being funded from general taxation. Its principal architect, William Beveridge, had studied the German system before the Great War, when he was an advisor to Lloyd George and Churchill as they created the first British welfare state. Following a 1926 Royal Commission recommendation and other inter-war discussion documents, Beveridge decided that the insurance link should be broken.

As a consequence, our NHS is known abroad as the Beveridge model.

But do not take my word for it. On BBC Radio 4, Michael Buerk gave due credit to Beveridge. There was an objective Radio 4 Archive Hour programme about the birth of the NHS which is well worth a listen if you have not heard it already. The quotations from contemporary civil service minutes and pronouncements by leading medicos were revealing. I also quoted Phil Hammond in this piece from last October.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was up to his usual cherry-picking tricks at the Tory conferences, claiming that the brains behind the NHS was not Nye Bevan, but Conservative health minister Sir Henry Willink and his 1944 white paper.

In fact, the idea for a state health service is usually credited to the social researcher and poverty campaigner Beatrice Webb in 1909. Lloyd George introduced state-organised health insurance in 1911, but for workers only. Lord Dawson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, reported in 1920 that "the best means of maintaining health and curing disease should be made available to all citizens", and it was William Beveridge who first proposed "cradle to grave care" in his 1942 report.

Willink's contribution was important - garnering cross-party support for a consensus that "everybody irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunity to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available". But it was Bevan who fought the vested interests and made it happen in 1948. The Conservatives voted against the creation of the NHS 22 times, including in the third reading.

So let us praise Bevan on this 70th anniversary, but also Webb, Dawson, Willink  and especially Beveridge.

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