Our NHS

My first book offers a new history of the National Health Service (NHS), bringing together the experiences of patients and the public, medical professionals, activists, trade unionists, politicians, economists, architects, filmmakers, and novelists. Our NHS scales from women’s experiences of maternity wards, to visits at the health centre, to the institution’s place in trans-Atlantic discussions about health reform, to the movement of Asian and Black medical professionals across formerly imperial borders. By interrogating where the idea of ‘Our NHS’ came from, it considers both those who defended the service and those who sought to tear it down.

The book asks two central questions. Why did a state health system became tied to national identity? And why did this massive public institution survive the rise of neoliberalism? If other parts of the welfare state or state industries did not last beyond the 1980s, the health service expanded and flourished by comparison, even as it became marketised. In explaining the surprising persistence of the NHS, I call attention to what I describe as the endurance of social democracy in a nation where this form of politics is commonly depicted as vanquished by the end of the twentieth century. Based on research in nearly forty archives, Our NHS provides a different history of a service perpetually ‘in crisis’, yet surprisingly long-lasting.

PRAISE FOR OUR NHS

“(Seaton’s) analysis is sharp and compelling and makes a considerable contribution to the scholarship surrounding what he terms ‘Britain’s best-loved institution’”.

– Sarah Neville, The Financial Times

“In his even-handed analysis, Seaton argues that what is remarkable about the NHS is that it…remains a beacon of social democratic principles”.

– Henry Marsh, The Lancet

“Seaton…charts an interesting grey zone where patriotic enthusiasm for a unique, beloved institution shades into ‘welfare nationalism’ and resentment of foreigners gaining unearned access to a precious, limited resource”.

– Rafael Behr, The Guardian

“Seaton…has produced an energetically detailed account of the evolution of the NHS”.

– Frances Cairncross, Literary Review

“On the seventy-fifth birthday of the NHS, Seaton contends that the service’s survival shows the limited purchase of neoliberal economics on British society”.

– Emily Baughan, Times Literary Supplement

“…this is a very personal account of the NHS and there’s an intimacy to it that can be very engrossing too”.

All About History magazine

“A provocative, deeply-researched explanation of how the NHS—seemingly in perpetual crisis—has endured over the past 75 years. Seaton’s study is an important corrective to overarching accounts of the triumph of neoliberalism in Britain, a testament to the power of unintended consequences in policy-making, and a must-read about the strange survival of social democracy and everyday communalism into the twenty-first century”.

— Deborah Cohen, author of Last Call at the Hotel Imperial and Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain

“Britain’s National Health Service remains a cultural icon—a symbol of excellent, egalitarian care since its founding more than seven decades ago. Yet its success was hardly guaranteed, as Andrew Seaton makes clear in this elegantly written, highly original history of an institution that survived numerous crises to become a model for the democratic welfare state and the very antithesis of the health inequities we face today as Americans. A brilliant, thought-provoking portrait”.

— David M. Oshinsky, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Polio: An American Story

“Fluidly written, richly detailed and frequently surprising, Our NHS is the portrait of a social democratic institution that withstood the assaults of neoliberalism, battle-scarred and transformed but still very much alive”.

— Quinn Slobodian, author of Crack-Up Capitalism: Market Radicals and the Dream of a World without Democracy

“In Our NHS, Andrew Seaton explores how the National Health Service, a great achievement for Aneurin Bevan and the left, became a national institution commanding widespread support. With an appreciation of the motives of those who have attacked its founding principles, to penetrating analysis of its resilience, this book is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the history of our NHS”.

— Nick Thomas-Symonds, MP, author of Harold Wilson: The Winner and Nye: The Political Life of Aneurin Bevan

“Accomplished and assured—Seaton writes without sentimentality or cynicism about an institution that for many has become an embodiment of British identity. From Clement Attlee to ‘Clap for Carers,’ this is a nuanced account of both the evolution of the NHS and the myth-making that came with it, as Seaton navigates the history of what is at once ‘Britain’s best-loved institution’ and a service perpetually seen to be in crisis”.

— Hannah Rose Woods, author of Rule, Nostalgia: A Backwards History of Britain

Also reviewed in The Telegraph; Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.

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