The public were involved in our work from the very start, shaping not just our answers but the actual questions we asked. We wanted to move away from the top down history of the NHS, written from the perspective of Westminster and Whitehall to a history of the NHS that incorporated the people who made it what it is today: those who used it and worked in it, who wrote and attended plays and poems about it, who produced and watched NHS documentaries and films, and for whom it was a key part of their sense of themselves and their identities.
There was just SO much to explore! People cared so much about the NHS, and yet, many people didn't feel that their everyday experiences - even the negative ones - could possibly be 'historical'. After all, that is one of the fundamental features of the NHS: its 'everydayness.' Our investigations sometimes tested and challenged, which could feel awkward. But it’s not a history that can or should be hidden. There’s a case for arguing that a better understanding of the history of meaning, belief and feelings is important in helping the NHS continue to thrive - not just as a successful health service, but as an institution that unites an often otherwise highly divided nation.
This work wouldn’t have happened without the amazing team that my collaborator Professor Mathew Thomson and I were able to build in the Centre for the History of Medicine here at Warwick, and in the wider Department of History, or without the support of the University and the Wellcome Trust. It has been an incredible benefit to us to have at our fingertips the astonishing wealth of resources and expertise based in the University’s Modern Records Centre and in the Library's Sivanandan Collection, not to mention having the resources of Coventry and Birmingham right on our doorstep. The diversity of our communities in the Midlands really reflects the diversity of experiences and commitments people have in and make to the NHS.
It has been incredibly exciting to reflect this diversity and complexity in some of the outcomes of our project, especially the BBC documentaries we produced or contributed to - ‘The NHS: A People’s History’ and ‘Our NHS: A Hidden History’ - in our Windrush Season and exhibition, our People’s History of the NHS website, and of course in our publications, all open access and free thanks to the Wellcome Trust.
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