the national health service has existed now for nearly 12 years, and already it is hard to remember what being ill was like before. It is almost impossible today to awaken the imagination of the post-war young to what a frightful, unforeseeable blow a serious or prolonged illness was to a family before the war, and they can hardly credit that the panel system covered only wage-earners of the lower income groups, and even then excluded wives and children. In those days no working class mother was ever free to call in a doctor to her children without asking herself, “Is it something serious, or would it be better to spend the money on oranges, extra milk, or coal for a bedroom fire?” followed by self-reproachful panic if the child got worse or others fell ill. In millions of families, a measles epidemic was a nightmare.

Is it not astonishing, then, that when you see an article on the Health Service anywhere today it is most likely either to be a biting examination of what is wrong with the NHS, or a scandalised fulmination about its cost—or sometimes both?

Nevertheless the great social advance achieved by the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948, is now freely admitted, even by the leaders of the British Medical Association who, up to then, fought hardest against the terms of service. In the Special Supplement which the British Medical Journal devoted to surveying its first ten years (July 1958), Dr. Guy Dain—redoubtable in the fight for the sanctity of the family doctor—admitted,

“From the point of view of the consumer—that is, every inhabitant of the country, whether Britisher or visitor—it has been an enormous benefit and success . . . The absence of any financial barrier between doctor and patient must make the doctor-patient relationship easier and more satisfactory.”

In the same issue, that indefatigable old Tory, Lord Moran commented:

“All three political parties were committed to provide a health service for the country. It was in short politically inevitable. Moreover it was unavoidable on account of finance. The hospitals were, broadly speaking, bankrupt; they could not have carried on without large government grants.”

Yet having admitted so much, the political leaders of the medical profession went on to call for a halt to “soaring expenditure” before the necessary expenditure on our admittedly “bankrupt” hospitals had properly begun; for a shifting of the burden onto the shoulders of those who use the service, and a gradual nibbling away at the free-for-all nature of the service which is fundamental to it. Some of this nibbling, of course, began with the prescription and other charges introduced by the second Labour government, now widely criticised throughout the Labour movement.