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BBC attempts to prove that the NHS was really good: fails epically

Many months ago I recorded a BBC documentary called “Health before the NHS”. Not having much of a stomach for statist propaganda I had been putting off watching it. The other night I finally got round to doing so.

Now, you will be shocked (shocked I tell you!) to hear, that the conclusion they reached was that the creation of the NHS was a very wonderful thing indeed. The problem was that if you actually looked at the evidence they presented – without making allowances for cherry picking – you’d have to reach precisely the opposite conclusion. This is what the BBC thought counted as evidence:

  1. There have always been state hospitals.
  2. They have always been awful. Dirty, miserable, useless.
  3. Before 1900 most operations were carried out at home
  4. Almost all developments in medicine in the first half of the 20th Century were pioneered by voluntary hospitals (ie private hospitals).
  5. It was voluntary hospitals that pioneered the idea that you might have an operation in a hospital and not at home.
  6. Voluntary hospitals were able to survive on charity until taxation in the 1920s got so high that this became increasingly difficult.

Something they did not cover was the introduction of a state general practitioner service in 1912. This was the real beginning of the NHS. At the time, I assume, no one in government thought voluntary hospitals particularly important, so they were ignored and, of course, they went on to transform healthcare. It really is amazing what a little freedom can do. It was only in 1948 that the government realised its “mistake” and nationalised the voluntary hospitals as well.

The BBC even opined that the NHS “integrated” healthcare (whatever that might mean) and managed to give the impression that it brought forth infinite resources for its activities. You have to admire their chutzpah.

Hospital subscribers in 1916.

Hospital subscribers in 1916. For further info see here.

13 comments to BBC attempts to prove that the NHS was really good: fails epically

  • Derek Buxton

    As one born in 1939 I well remember the doctors and hospitals before the NHS was born. GPs worked hard for their patients, no 9 to 5 in those days and they did home visits. Specialists were readily available if needed and hospitals worked well. During the war my parents both had operations, serious ones and were well looked after. And this was a working class family.

  • Derek Buxton

    Sorry, the date of birth should have read “1933”, must engage brain before typing!

  • Paul Marks

    A good reply to the BBC by Patrick.

    As for the NHS – the Conservative party has historically been terrified of touching it (no matter how many people it kills) because of the fear of being branded “lacking in compassion towards the poor and sick”.

    But what about the BBC?

    The BBC has been a leftist propaganda entity for decades – yet the Conservative party will not even get rid of the BBC tax (the “license fee”) for an organisation that throws buckets of human excrement over all nonleftists ever day.

    Those whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make insane. And the continued support for the “license fee” is insane.

    How can there be any real reform generally – when the BBC is pumping out collectivist propaganda 24 hours a day?

    And, no, I do not accept the excuse “the Lib Dems will not let us do anything”.

  • Robert

    I also recorded that program, but haven’t mustered the fortitude to watch it yet; I may do so now.

    This post leads me to the question: are there any good histories of the provision of health services in the UK before the NHS?

    The main reason that reforming (let alone abolishing) the NHS is impossible, is that the myth that before the NHS (and even now in less enlightened countries without an NHS) it was impossible for anyone but the rich to get health care, and the old and infirm were callously left to die in the street, has entered the bones of the British people.

    What would be great would be a short booklet outlining alternatives to the NHS, drawing examples from history and from other countries’ present to show that there *are* alternatives that don’t lead to death and disaster. British people cling to the NHS for the same reason the medieval peasants clung to the Catholic Church – because they have been taught by their masters that any alternative leads to hell and damnation; most people are literally incapable of imagining that any alternative could be better, so any argument for an alternative is ruled out before it is even put forward.

  • Robert, I think that Patrick’s link pretty much does the job.

  • Schrodinger's Dog


    If you want a history of health care in the UK, I’d recommend James Bartholomew’s book, The Welfare State We’re In. It’s not perfect, insomuch as its main objective is to highlight the problems caused by the modern welfare state. However, it does have a lot of historical background about welfare provision, including caring for the sick, starting with the Poor Law of 1601.

  • My problem with the NHS is not so much that it provides crap health care – although it does – but that it crowds out good health care. Private health care in the UK is used by a small minority and has few economies of scale, and so is very expensive. Therefore, I cannot afford to use it. Therefore the NHS is my only choice. Therefore I use the NHS. I swear at its awfulness, but I still use it and thus reinforce the problem. If private healthcare existed for the price that it does in Australia, I would forsake the NHS and use it. However, I lack that option.

    This is my fundamental problem with the BBC, too. Vast alternatives to it do not exist, and never have, because they have not been allowed to.

  • Robert

    Thanks Alisa, I didn’t see the link underneath the picture.
    Thanks Schrodinger’s Dog, I see that there is a new edition of that book out in a few weeks.

  • When not in residence on the Isle of Man, I live in Penang, Malaysia (mostly just during the winter) as I have very poor circulation and the winters in Europe kill me.

    As part of my Malaysian residence visa, I am required to have health insurance, but this a sensible precaution anyway.

    The annual cost of my medical insurance is 2,091.60 MYR (£427.51 / $675.04 US), including a 60% obesity weighting for being a fatty. This entitles me to healthcare which is on a par with the best US hospitals and way above the NHS in terms of cleanliness and quality.

    I can attend my own GP within walking distance of my apartment (although given the heat, I prefer the motorcycle) or at any of 73 registered clinics on Penang island and many thousands throughout mainland Malaysia.

    A friend of mine was diagnosed with a brain tumour, their was no question that all his medical treatment was covered. He saw a specialist the same day and targetted radiology was commenced two days later. It is now several months since his treatment and subsequent check-ups (he has an MRI every 6 weeks) have shown him to be cancer free.

    It is possible that the same medical outcome could be achieved on the NHS, but not with the same speed or quality of care.

    For this UK residents pay 30-50% of their income. It is only because we have propaganda organs such as the BBC continually spouting this bullshit as well as politicians who have their own private doctors and private hospitals all on expenses.

  • Robbo

    David G Green wrote some books for the IEA in the 90’s on how welfare happened before 1948. Health was included.

  • Paul Marks

    Even in 1911 (and technological and wage levels vastly lower than today) 80% (and rising) of British industrial workers were members of “Friendly Societies” – which covered health care (as well as old age).

    Never forget that the free society did not die a natural death – the Prussian worshipping collectivists murdered freedom.

  • Phil B


    There is a slew of free publications on the CIVITAS website dealing with healt provision before the NHS.

    Link here:


    There is plenty there regarding the NHS and the welfare state to keep you occupied for a while.Beware that they are not short documents.

    The thing I like about Civitas is that the contributors are left wing liberals who have worked in the systems they describe and realised that they do not work. They can’t be accused of being biased.

  • Phil B


    Regarding pre-NHS health provison, try googling “Before Beveridge: Welfare Before the Welfare State ” – it’s a Civitas free publication but as they have revamped their website, I can’t locate it directly. It should answer your question in full.