BOOK REVIEW: ‘The NHS At 70: A Living History’

80. NHS at 70

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: The NHS At 70: A Living History

Author: Ellen Welch

No. of Pages: 149

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 7

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In the Preface to this volume the author writes the following: ‘At midnight on 5 July 1948 the National Health Service [NHS] was born, with the founding principle to be free at the point of use and based on clinical need rather than a person’s ability to pay’. The background thus established, she concludes ‘This book attempts to summarise the foundations of the NHS and discuss why it was formed, provide an understanding of its current structure and problems and consider what the future may hold’. It is an excellent summation of what is to follow.

Within the volume, the Contents page is followed by an Acknowledgements section. In this, the author clarifies her position vis–a-vis the NHS (‘The views in this book are my own’), and thanks those who assisted her in the volume’s creation. The section is in turn followed by a Preface from which the quotes in paragraph one were taken. The section summarises the content of the four Chapters placed after it; the latter forming the bulk of the book. The Chapters take the reader through the history of health services in Great Britain, and while so-doing cover a time period from 500A D to 2018. Chapters 1 and 2 provide background, while Chapter 3 (Timeline of the NHS) precis ‘events of significance’ that have occurred within the 1950-2018 period. The title of Chapter 4 (The Modern NHS) is self-explanatory. The latter Chapter is followed by a section titled Sources and Additional Reading. This is bibliographical in nature, and lists the books, articles and online sources used by the author when writing this volume. The Index follows and is the volume’s last section. Within each Chapter, subheadings are used to provide additional Chapter-relevant information. These are accompanied by personal reminiscences (Titled My NHS Story), which provide a ‘human’ perspective to the events and times that the Chapter is discussing. The volume contains numerous photographs, advertisements, and a building-plan, together with assorted paraphernalia and cartoons relevant to the narrative. These are informatively captioned, monochrome in format and from a variety of sources. Tables and Flow-charts also appear where appropriate. The existence of such items is not however acknowledged on either the Contents page or within the Index. The volume’s single ‘footnote’ appears on page 43; it is however, more an ‘aide memoir’ than a formal citation.

Regrettably, for this reviewer at least, this volume, while well written and researched, was let down by the ‘small things’, especially in regard to the Index. In his considered opinion, the Index could best be best described as ‘patchy’ and so-focussed on the ‘mechanics’ of its NHS subject as to exclude almost everything else. These exclusions included such random items as Elizabeth I (Page 19), Caribbean, Ireland (both on page 60), Great Ormond Hospital (page 72), John and Rosemary Cox (page 85), Sugar Tax (page 109) and Commonwealth Fund (page 134).  Other omissions were also found and what else has been left out cannot be known. As a result, the authority and veracity of the Index must be inevitably be in doubt. In addition it was noted that both the previously-mentioned My NHS Story personal reminiscences and those of other individuals are not accompanied by verifying citations. This reduces their value to researchers. Citations for the various Official Documents, Reports, Acts of Parliament etc. quoted within the volume are also missing. A Glossary for the volume’s large numbers of acronyms and abbreviations would also have been helpful, as a non-medical reader has no way of knowing (for example) what an OT (page 73) might be.

Potentially, this volume could have been the ‘Standard Reference Work’ for its subject. For readers seeking an easily-readable ‘once over lightly’ history of the NHS it might still achieve that status. Regrettably however, for academic-level researchers, the ‘difficulties’ with the Index and the lack of citations, Glossary etc. have considerably reduced its value as a research document; it is an ‘aide’ rather than being the ‘authoritative document’ it could so easily have been.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The NHS At 70: A Living History’