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What impact has the NHS had over 70 years?

Although the NHS has been a huge and vital part of our lives for almost 70 years, its cultural history has gone largely undocumented. The NHS has had an immeasurable impact on every person in the UK – many of us are born into it and throughout our lives we turn to it when we are most in need – and yet, there exists no history that encapsulates its meaning.

The People’s History of the NHS research project sought to address this. The project conducted many discussion sessions with those who have used and worked in the NHS to collect their thoughts, feelings and experiences.


Throughout the project, the researchers focused on the following questions:

  • How has the popular meaning of the NHS changed since 1948, and how have changes influenced public attitudes towards, responses to and feelings about the health services?
  • To what extent have cultural representations of the NHS captured and inflected its unique position in British daily life?
  • How has the NHS been perceived and represented by its own staff, trade unions and regulatory bodies?
  • Has the NHS – as an institution and a resource, as well as an emblem of wider and deeper social beliefs — changed British identity in identifiable and distinctive ways? Have ambitions to use the NHS as vehicle for the transmission of cultural norms been fulfilled or frustrated?

Health Exchange was involved in convening 9 discussion sessions with a number of community groups, including BME NHS staff, local faith groups, the Jamaican Nurses Association and a ‘Golden Age’ lunch club. Community facilitator Michael Bailey was involved in organizing these sessions and directing the discussions to cover how people felt the NHS had changed in their lifetime and how they would like to see the NHS continue to change and develop in the future. The discussions were often lively and always fascinating.

To mark the end of the project, a closing event was held at the MAC (Midlands Arts Centre) in November, providing an opportunity to thank all the participants and give them a chance to meet each other and the lead researchers. The researchers presented their findings and showed some of the film footage from the discussion sessions.

A film crew from Inside Out West Midlands also attended and you can watch their coverage here in the final third of the episode.





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