Ambulance in London

Cultural history of the NHS

The NHS has been the subject of several major political and policy histories. Astonishingly, however, given the sheer scale of its impacts on local and regional communities, and on Britain’s national and international identity, the cultural history of this key institution of post-war British life remains largely undeveloped.

There is no history that addresses the realm of meaning, feelings, and representation, and none that responds to the striking observation that ‘the NHS is the closest thing the English have to a religion’.

Thanks to funding from the Wellcome Trust, a team from the University of Warwick is now producing the first major history of this subject.

The project will attempt to answer the following questions:

  • How has the popular meaning of the NHS changed since 1948, and how have changes influenced public attitudes towards, responses to and feelings about the health services?
  • To what extent have cultural representations of the NHS captured and inflected its unique position in British daily life?
  • How has the NHS been perceived and represented by its own staff, trade unions and regulatory bodies?
  • Has the NHS – as an institution and a resource, as well as an emblem of wider and deeper social beliefs — changed British identity in identifiable and distinctive ways?
  • Have ambitions to use the NHS as vehicle for the transmission of cultural norms been fulfilled or frustrated?

Get involved

One part of the project is the development of a website that collects people’s personal stories and memories of the NHS. We’d love to hear people’s recollections of the NHS and what it means to them.

If you would like to take part, please visit the project’s website. Here you can share your stories, respond to calls for information, find out about public engagement events, and visit the project’s ‘virtual museum’ and ‘People’s Encyclopaedia of the NHS’.

You can also follow the project on Twitter: @NHSHistory.