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How the NHS became almost a national 'religion'

Researchers at the University of Warwick are appealing for communities and individuals to get involved in a new five year research project which will record and examine the cultural history of the NHS.

Dr Roberta Bivins and Dr Mathew Thomson of the Centre for the History of Medicine at the University of Warwick have secured Senior Investigator Awards from the Wellcome Trust, with funding of over £1 million to support their five year research programme. The project will investigate the changing meaning of the NHS for the population since its opening in 1948.

Dr Thomson said: “Conservative politician Nigel Lawson once said “the NHS is the closest thing the English people have now to a religion’ and assumptions about the NHS remain hugely influential in public debate. This project will give us a great opportunity to record and research one of the most famous health systems in the world, to look at its impact on the British people, it’s communities and on individuals both working within the NHS and those who use its services.

“With the general election rapidly approaching, the future of the NHS will be a key priority for all political parties. There is absolutely no doubt that the NHS had and continues to have a huge impact on the daily lives of everyone in this country and this research project will help us to better understand the evolution of the NHS and its cultural history.”

As the NHS approaches its 70th anniversary in 2018, the project will provide the first ever major study of how our beliefs about the NHS evolved over this period by analysing public opinion, cultural representation in literature, film and television and the role of the NHS itself and those who worked within it in.

The research will incorporate whether and how the NHS operated as a cultural force in the United Kingdom, for instance by encouraging or discouraging the integration of various populations – the elderly, the disabled, migrants etc. – into wider cultures of community health.

A key element of the project will be working with communities and individuals to uncover a hidden history of belief, meaning and feeling and in retrieving artefacts and stories to bring the NHS story to life in a web-based ‘people’s history of the NHS’ and Dr Bivins and Dr Thomson are appealing for members of the public to step up and share their beliefs and feelings about the NHS.

Dr Bivins added: “Putting together a cultural history will enable us to examine how public opinion on the NHS has been formed and evolved over time, how individuals, communities and minorities have been brought together, or otherwise, by the NHS. By looking at cultural representation through the media we can also pull together a picture of the evolution and establishment of the NHS as the ‘English religion’ that Lawson described.”

People interested in becoming involved with the project should contact the project on More information can be found at:

 A series of events will be held later in the year to begin to collate memories, information and artefacts – information on the project and forthcoming events can be found on (website)

Notes for Editors:

Both Dr Bivins and Dr Thomson are available and happy to speak on this research and the NHS.

For more information please contact Alison Rowan, Communications Manager on or on 024 76 150423/07876218166