Bevan’s speech Preston 5 July 1948

Mr. Bevan said that “the conception behind the five great Acts that had just come into force was one to which people of all parties had made their contribution. Since 1848 the health services of the country have undergone adaptation, extension and improvement, until today we can say we have the best organised system of social security in the world,” he declared. Some said it was a mistake to put individual security so much to the fore, that in making the individual too secure some vital element was sucked out of life, that the spirit of adventure and the uncertainties that were the spur of original thought would be retarded. There was, however, no spirit of adventure in a mother being unable to give proper attention to her child, or in inefficient social services. The fear that was now eliminated undermined individual initiative.

Discussing the structure of the service, Mr. Bevan said, “You might say that a man of my temperament would find it difficult to obtain universal agreement in the efforts to build up the present health structure. But I sometimes wonder whether a less belligerent personality would have started the scheme at all. A certain amount of aggressiveness was necessary, to push aside many of the resistances which would have prevented the scheme from being started at all.” Mr. Bevan could claim there had been no political bias in the selection of people to take part in the voluntary machinery. He had achieved that universal measure of agreement that was evidence of complete impartiality, and already a team spirit had grown up.

Balance of Authority

It had been a problem how to centralise financial responsibility and at the same time prevent hospital administration from becoming hopelessly bureaucratic. It would have been impossible to have a satisfactory system run from Whitehall and there had to be at some point in the administration, the element of public accountability. That was why the words ‘Minister of Health” were repeated so much in the Act.

More reciprocity between academic and clinical medicine was desirable in the future. For many middle-class groups doctors’ bills were often very serious items and the Government was anxious to get the middle and professional groups into the service with the rest.

Mr. Bevan had a sharp reproof for general practitioners, who told applicants they were prepared to keep them as paying but not public patients. This was a “wicked thing”. There was no limit to the cost or quality of drugs which might be prescribed. There was no rule preventing doctors visiting patients in their homes or that they could not see them by appointment. He had a “brief but utterly sincere word of thanks for all those men and women” who had done voluntary work. They handed over much that was a going concern and the old services were not being changed because they were bad, but to make them better.

Sources: Daily Telegraph and Manchester Guardian, 6 July 1948.