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People’s History of the NHS

People's History of the NHS

This major research project explored the impacts of the NHS on British cultural life and beliefs, testing Nigel Lawson’s famous claim that the NHS was ‘the closest thing the English have to a religion.’ From workplace experiences to national (and international) symbolism, the project expands our knowledge of the NHS as a transformative British institution.

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Gathering memories

The researchers asked members of the public who have used or worked in the NHS for their personal stories and memories, and invited them to share their own ideas about topics and questions for research. These were used to create a virtual museum of everyday, overlooked and eccentric subjects from throughout the history of the NHS. This sits alongside the People’s Encyclopaedia, which includes entries on a broad range of topics from throughout the institution’s history. We worked with local history and community groups, NHS trusts, social enterprises, and regional heritage powerhouses (such as the Black Country Living Museum), as well as national organisations such as the Science Museum, where we pioneered our 'NHS pub quiz' format to gain insight into public knowledge of the history of the NHS.

Informing and influencing contemporary debates

Project research has helped to frame current debates about health devolution; migration and the NHS; the ‘uses of history’ for NHS policy makers; and the meanings of public outcry against ‘NHS privatisation’. This was particularly evident during the 2018 celebrations of the Service’s 70th anniversary, when we co-created the critically acclaimed BBC4 documentary, ‘The NHS: A People’s History’. The project is ongoing, and will complete in December 2020.

While the public may ‘love’ the NHS when it seems to be threatened, historically their love has never been blind. Like the Service itself, public feeling towards the NHS has evolved in response to changing circumstances Professors Roberta Bivins and Mathew Thomson. Read more...


Explore our research and find out how it is making a difference...