Sound and vision blog

01 July 2021

The NHS at 73

A black and white photo of three people standing over a woman in a bedAnenurin Bevan, Minister of Health, on the first day of the National Health Service, 5 July 1948 at Park Hospital, Davyhulme, near Manchester. Courtesy of University of Liverpool/Wikimedia

On the 5th July 2021 the National Health Service reaches its 73rd Birthday. In a year where the NHS is still at the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic, its importance resonates more than ever across the UK. It is timely and exciting then that a large collection of interviews is currently being deposited at the British Library from the University of Manchester’s 'NHS at 70' Project. Led by Professor Stephanie Snow and Dr Angela Whitecross, and involving a dynamic and committed team of staff and volunteers, initially the project was set up in 2017 to commemorate the 70th birthday of the NHS (funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund), recording first hand experiences, memories and reflections of NHS staff, patients and members of the public. The project has now gone far beyond that initial collecting remit, and through a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (part of the UKRI Covid-19 Urgency call) interviews have continued remotely as 'NHS Voices of Covid-19' in order to capture the voices of those at the forefront of the pandemic. All the interviews are now being archived at the British Library as ‘Voices of Our National Health Service’ and together they provide both a history of the health service and invaluable documentation of a period in which the NHS has faced unprecedented challenges.

The clips below are all selected from pre Covid-19 interviews. This is partly because interviews undertaken during the pandemic have not yet been deposited at the British Library (this will start in August 2021) but also because now, more than ever, it is important to reflect on the long history of the NHS and remember the many ways it has been an integral part of life in the UK for the past 73 years.

A number of interviews in the collection provide an insight into life before the formation of the NHS and the era of free health care. In this first clip, Megan Fox (interviewed in 2018) recalls her family's connections with ‘the father of the NHS’ Aneurin Bevan and the Tredegar Medical Aid Society; the society was used by Bevan as a model for the National Health Service.

Megan Fox (C1887/77) © University of Manchester

Megan Fox Transcript

In this next chosen clip, interviewee Janine McKnight-Cowan (interviewed in 2018) describes the reasons why even at a young age she wanted to become a nurse.

Janine McKnight-Cowan (C1887/164) © University of Manchester

Janine McKnight-Cowan Transcript

Many interviewees talk about the importance of migrants to the NHS workforce and Dr Punam Krishan’s interview from 2019 is no exception. Dr Krishan (interviewed in 2019) describes attending an exhibition at the Royal College of General Practitioners ‘Migrants who made the NHS’ (a 2018 exhibition to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the NHS) which focused on Doctors from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Dr Krishan expresses her pride in seeing her family doctor featured in the exhibition.

Dr Punam Krishan (C1887/53) © University of Manchester

Punam Krishan Transcript

In this final clip, Jill Watson (interviewed at the end of 2018) a peer flu vaccinator interviewed in 2018, talks (with somewhat spooky foresight) about what she thinks a large scale pandemic would mean for the NHS.

Jill Watson (C1887/166) © University of Manchester

Jill Watson Transcript

What became clear early on in cataloguing this collection is the pride that the UK has in its National Health Service, whether that be from staff or patients. Gratification and thanks for the NHS feature in practically all of the interviewees’ closing words. Hopefully, these clips give a taste of what is to come from the 'Voices of Our National Health Service' collection and demonstrate just some of the ways the NHS has impacted life in the UK over the last 73 years.

Blog by Hannah Tame, Oral History Cataloguer NHS Voices of Covid-19. With thanks to our colleagues at the University of Manchester.

Voices of Our National Health Service can be found by searching C1887 at the Sound and Moving Image catalogue.