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When was the NHS created?

Here is a chart of average life spans for women from the Office of National Statistics with the dates replaced with letters. At some point on the X axis the National Health Service was created. Can you guess where? Answer below the fold.



28 comments to When was the NHS created?

  • Ljh

    Safe water. Adequate nutrition. Improvements in housing. Medical care, except for modern obstetrics and prenatal screening as well as vaccination, adds very little.

  • The NHS has got nothing to do with healthcare and is more to do with bureaucracy and producer capture than anything else.

    Interesting dip in the life expectancy of females around 1918 though – Spanish flu I’m guessing.

    I’m also thinking that a big cause of female mortality was related to childbirth, which improved massively due to improvements in midwifery during the 20’s and 30’s and the consequential impact on hygiene reduced post-partum infections. Death in childhood rates dropped dramatically from about the mid-1930 onwards, again none of these improvements had a damn thing to do with the NHS.


  • Mr Ed

    Presumably the dip around 1919 in the Spanish ‘flu’s impact, but life expectancy is a complex prediction. I wonder what the local stats for Staffordshire show after the NHS hospital was turned into a slaughterhouse.

  • Patrick, you have the ability to take a mass of words and data and make one memorable point. That’s a great skill.

  • PaulM

    Certainly high child mortality 1800’s played a huge part in bringing those to such a low level.

  • pete

    The NHS was not created in other comparable countries which have broadly similar health stats and life expectancies.

    That’s the real proof that there is nothing particularly special about the NHS or its staff.

    The Olympic ceremony which celebrated the NHS as some kind of special UK achievement in health care was embarrassing for this reason.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Excellent critique. But the leftists have already won the wider argument.

    The NHS is the darling of the left, and any attempt to even debate the issue of its effectiveness is modern blasphemy. It is a matter of supreme irony that a movement that prides itself of claiming to be “progressive” continues to weld itself into a social ideology that expired decades ago and we are already well aware of its dismal failings. Today, any suggestion that the NHS could possibly be replaced with something either more cost effective or better is not open to discussion, and even suggestions we could try that out for analysis are roundly stomped on, not very progressive thinking.

    All evidence like this becomes circumspect, libertarians have to engage the wider debate on whether ancient communal socialist ideology is appropriate for a technologically enabled and globally connected generation that celebrates individualism, only then can you bring such evidence to the fore, the willingness to move away from rooted beliefs is needed first.

    It is a really interesting graph though, thank you.

  • Lee Moore

    I wonder what the charts would look like if life expectancy was measured from conception rather than from birth. Mode and median would presumably be somewhere round the 0-10 days mark, and unchanged since t’olden days. But mean might be interesting – I suspect that higher non spontaneous abortion rates post 1967 might well outweigh the growth in mean life expectancy for those who make it to birth.

  • Paul Marks

    Patrick is correct – the NHS made little difference to long term tends.

    Even free medical care was far more common in the past than is often thought.

    I remember back in the days when I was allowed to be a security guard (before licensing) finding piles of books in the basement of University Collage Hospital London. They were histories of the hospital – discarded for an obvious reason.

    It was obvious from the history that free medical care started in this hospital (and others) long before 1948.

    In 1911 some 80% of industrial workers (and rising) were covered, as were their families, by “Friendly Societies”. And those people who were not covered still had access to the many charitable hospitals (and charitable wards) that existed.

    However, modern “history” has to be that before 1948 only the rich had medical care.

    In the United States the young believe that people starved in the streets before “Food Stamps” (only introduced in the 1961), the old and poor had no medical care before Medicare and Medicaid (introduced in 1965) and the old had no income in the 1920s – as Social Security was not introduced till 1935 (Hayek in the relevant chapter “Constitution of Liberty” shows how the figures for old people with no income were systematically rigged by pro government officials and intellectuals).

    Even in the little country of Andorra none of these government schemes existed till 1966 – no doubt the young believe that the old, poor and sick died in the snow.

    In Iceland there was no system of state schools till the early 1900s – yet I doubt there was any adult in the country who could not read and write before this. For England and Wales see E.G. West “Education and the State”.

    To judge by the “Daily Show” (now presented by a charmless South African) the American young, who fanatically cheer and clap the most bland government ministers and officials, believe history can be summed up as follows…….

    “At first there was darkness, then THE GOVERNMENT said let-there-be-light and there was light”.

    Although less fanatical (when observing the “good student” type of American youngster, one expects them to scream “burn-the-heretic” at any moment) I suspect the young in most countries also believe that the old, poor and sick had no provision before statism.

    Mutual aid and so on?

    The words “Friendly Societies” and “Fraternities” do not mean much to modern minds – other than as drinking clubs.

  • Veryretired

    People of both sexes die today from genetic factors that develop with age, such as heart disease, strokes, and other things that are age related, such as most cancers.

    Women used to die from complications of childbirth very regularly, usually from infection. That’s why all the old fairy tales had an evil step-mother in them, and one of the reasons women were considered fragile.

    Remove infection, especially pneumonia, as happened with the development of antibiotics, and both men and women start living considerably longer. Women, however, are much better made than men in terms of their physical stability, so they live much longer, on average, when so many of the common causes of death have been alleviated by vaccines, antibiotics, and other basic public health measures.

    My mother died a few years ago at age 88 from congestive heart failure. She had a sister who died as a young girl from kidney disease, which could have been treated very effectively a few years later by antibiotics which weren’t available yet.b

    During the Civil War in the U.S., in the 1860’s, 2/3 of the fatalities were from disease and infection. By the time of WW 2, that number was reduced to under 1/10th.

    I recall getting into a big argument in college, during a discussion of modern civilization, with an ecology type who was claiming that our industrial, commercial farming oriented culture was unhealthy, and killing us with all sorts of pollution related diseases. He was very unhappy when I started listing all the diseases, and other causes of death, that had been drastically reduced by the very science, funded by a growing economy, that he was condemning.

    Women live longer because they are very well designed by nature to survive the rigors of childbirth. When you begin subtracting numerous common causes of death by better medical treatment, as well as adequate food, clean water, etc., their survivability soars.

  • Laird

    @ Runcie: “ancient communal socialist ideology”. A very apt turn of phrase.

  • PapayaSF

    Paul Marks: excellent comment.

  • Rob Fisher

    Does the slope flatten out a bit after the black line? Does that mean anything?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Paul, Very, Patrick: Very good. Thanks.

  • Richard Thomas

    Veryretired, women are “designed” (inasmuch as they are not actually designed at all) to birth offspring with a much smaller head. The benefits accrued by the advanced mental capabilities of the human brain are so hugely beneficial that evolution didn’t wait for the rest of human physiology to catch up before running full-steam with it. Indeed, it’s that advanced capacity which has in more recent times been responsible for the amelioration of much of the problem which it caused. Though in a double-edged sword manor, this means that evolution won’t be allowed to fix things and women will be suffering painful births and stitching-up for a good time to come. At least, until we get genetic engineering or some other technology to do the job.

  • Richard Thomas

    (Oops, forgot the zinger re: advanced mental capacity)

    Which makes it such a shame that leftists fail to take advantage of it.

  • Rob Fisher asks, “Does the slope flatten out a bit after the black line? Does that mean anything?”
    No, of course not. A mere statistical fluke. Now, if the lifespan of women had suddenly started improving at a greater rate following the formation of the NHS, that would mean something. Clear now?

  • Lee Moore

    In fact, government statisticians are just finishing off a new analysis of the data. It turns out that errors in past measurements – poor technique and rudimentary equipment, bias in the day/night signal and so on, and the perennial problem of fraying quills – can now be corrected and will show that life expectancy in the 1940s has been greatly overstated. Life expectancy was actually pretty much flat from 1 million years BC to roughly the mid 1940s. It has taken off like a firework since then (except for a dip during the “Cuts !” horror of the 1980s.

  • Snorri Godhi

    One way to address Rob Fisher’s question would be to compare the time course in life expectancy in Britain to the increase in other Western countries which introduced socialized medicine either well before or well after 1948.

    WRT this comment by Paul Marks:

    In the United States the young believe that […] the old and poor had no medical care before Medicare and Medicaid (introduced in 1965)

    In Europe, the young and old alike seem to believe that the poor had no medical care in the US before Obamacare; and perhaps not even after Obamacare. That is one reason for my distrust of stereotypes about foreign countries.

  • Yes, advances in medical technology are important but so too are very simple things. See this tragic tail. Whilst I am generally very Eddinton on pure empiricism, “Never believe any results until backed by theory” here the statistics are incontrevertible. Also it shows the medical doctors seem thean as often now to very resistant to change. They are an establishment whoever pays them and how.

  • I went into the kitchen to make a sandwich and a term occurred to me, “Institutional Inertia” and the medics have it in spades.

  • bloke in spain

    “Does the slope flatten out a bit after the black line? Does that mean anything?”
    No, of course not. A mere statistical fluke.”

    Not so sure. Look at the big dip in ’19 we’re saying is the Spanish flu. Would we expect to have seen the same thing if there’d been another Spanish flu. Probably not. More medical intervention. Better drugs.
    Maybe that smoothing is, in part, the NHS. It doesn’t do a lot for overall life expectancy but can move deaths through time. The deaths move from a trough to smoothing a peak.
    Which is what increased life expectancy’s all about anyway, isn’t it? Doesn’t mean you don’t die. Just slightly later. Those that don’t succumb to the winter chill survive to get the heart attack.

  • bloke in spain

    I think what I’m proposing is a culling effect. The periodic infections going around kill off the week, so the remaining population is stronger, for a while.

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    So the infections kill off the week, leaving only the days and months to handle diseases. I wonder how it does that?
    On a more serious note, I heard or read somewhere that someone wondered if slavery had had an unplanned side-effect of ensuring that black genes were hardier than other races’ genes, by culling the weak? This was being used to explain why people with African genes did well at sports.
    So how about we re-introduce slavery to improve health? (And I don’t mean wage-, or tax- slavery.)

  • N(A.royd)G,
    I don’t buy that but there is strong evidence that resistance to HIV is linked to resistance to Bubonic plague. The Black Death devasted Europe and parts of Asia (which have low HIV rates) but hardly touched Sub-Saharan Africa. And it is not just statistical either they have genetic evidence – I forget the details. It would appear that in life what one wins on the swings…

  • Mr Ed

    B-i-S’s point about infections killing off the weak should be considered in the light of factors that render an individual ‘weak’ to a ‘germ’. Poor health, poor living standards, occupation, feckless dietary choices may contribute greatly, but there is also the randomness of the immune response and exposure to previous similar diseases (e.g. cowpox/smalllpox) that may roll the dice so that apparently strong perish and ‘weak’ survive. The ‘weak’ being those unprepared for the infection.

    As recently as the 1940s, in my father’s primary school, childhood mortality was such that in any one year at school, it was understoof that several pupils a year would die from e.g. Diptheria or TB, and there was little that could be done until appropriate antibiotics came on stream. All these appeals for children with serious illnesses strike my Old Man as a sign of progress, no one stopped in his day for dying children, there were too many of them.

  • john malpas

    Medical care back in the early 40s wasn’t all that free. I can remember my mother seeing an almoner to see if me and my broken arm qualified for x ray etc.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray:

    There are genetic components to disproportionate black success in certain sports. West African blacks have a higher proportion of fast-twitch muscle fiber, which advantages them in sprinting and hurdling, and sports sprinting and hurdling movements are key. (Notably, basketball.) OTOH, east African blacks have more slow-twitch fiber and better capillary distribution to keep muscles oxygenated. (More precisely, they can quickly develop excellent capillaries in response to training.) So east Africans dominate long-distance running events.

    This applies to both native and diaspora Africans; slavery has had little to do with it.

    There are other inheritable factors. The squatty, barrel-chested body type common in northern Europe is highly effective in pure strength competitions such as shotput and hammer throw, or the “World’s Strongest Man” events. One sees much success there for Poles, Russians, Germans, and Scandinavians.

    Big-bodied Pacific islanders, drawn from a minuscule demographic base, are a disproportionate share of American football players, but almost exclusively as linemen.

    Another factor at play in the present era is economic. There is a saying that “the fight game belongs to the hungry”, and this is true of other sports as well. Men from low-income backgrounds are more likely to commit fully to sports as a path to success.