The NHS - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:31 pm on 5th July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield Crossbench 4:31 pm, 5th July 2018

I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, on an inspiring opening speech.

In the life of a nation, there occur a few ripe, golden days—the kind of day that you want to “bite to the core”, to borrow a line from the poet Edward Thomas. Undoubtedly, 5 July 1948 was such a day. The British state came as close as it ever has to institutionalising altruism when the Attlee Government created the National Health Service. As we have heard already, it was shaped by that man of genius and brilliant word power, Aneurin Bevan, who the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, once aptly described as “an artist in the use of power”. Its core principle was the pooling of human risk and financial resource—that the National Health Service should be taxpayer funded and free at the point of delivery—which has been sustained by every Government since.

The National Health Service was, and is, one of those national banners around which my generation rallied, as it has served us since we were in our cradles. No doubt we will still laud it as it eases us towards our graves. Talking about the welfare state in 1948, Nye Bevan said to his Parliamentary Private Secretary, Barbara Castle, who recorded it for me in a television interview 20 years ago:

“Barbara, if you want to know what all this is about, look in the perambulators”.

Given our average age, that encompasses many of us in the Chamber—we very fortunate children of the early post-war period.

Let us go back to vesting day 70 years ago. More anxiety was lifted off more shoulders on 5 July 1948 than possibly any other single day in British history. It was an extraordinary day. The creation of the NHS was a declaration of great national purpose. Achieving it over seven decades has been freighted from the beginning by the core problem that we have heard much about this afternoon: demand has always outrun the funds available to meet it. We now have a golden chance to tackle that. Let us rally once around the banner of the NHS, the flag that we have rallied around all our lives.

In this vexing era, when we torture ourselves daily with our differences over Brexit, perhaps here at last is a consensus that is there for the taking. I dearly hope that it will be taken, shaped by that rigorous, realistic national debate of which the noble Lord, Lord Winston, spoke so forcefully. We owe it to the founders of 1948 and the generations who have devoted their professional lives to this extraordinary institution over the past 70 years. This is an hour for seizing.