“Whipping Boy” to “Envy of the World”: Promoting the NHS at Home and Abroad, 1948-1998

Even before Britain’s National Health Service opened its doors on 5th July 1948, it was the subject of considerable international commentary, both enthusiastic and appalled. By 1948, the British government, medical professional bodies, activist groups, trade unions, and members of the public were not only aware of international conversations around the NHS, but were actively intervening in them. This is most visible in relation to perceptions of the Service in the United States, where the NHS was heavily invoked in national debates over the appropriate role of the state in the provision of health care. This talk will explore the efforts of a range of actors to influence domestic and international opinions about the National Health Service from its first decade to the end of the 20th century. What can representations of the NHS tell us about the place of the Service itself as a symbol of international standing and national values?