An engaging, inclusive history of the NHS, exploring its surprising survival—and the people who have kept it running
In recent decades, a wave of appreciation for the NHS has swept across the UK. Britons have clapped for frontline workers and championed the service as a distinctive national achievement. All this has happened in the face of ideological opposition, marketization, and workforce crises. But how did the NHS become what it is today?
In this wide-ranging history, Andrew Seaton examines the full story of the NHS. He traces how the service has changed and adapted, bringing together the experiences of patients, staff from Britain and abroad, and the service’s wider supporters and opponents. He explains not only why it survived the neoliberalism of the late twentieth century but also how it became a key marker of national identity. Seaton emphasizes the resilience of the NHS—perpetually “in crisis” and yet perennially enduring—as well as the political values it embodies and the work of those who have tirelessly kept it afloat.
Andrew Seaton is the Plumer Junior Research Fellow in History at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford. An expert in the history of modern Britain and the NHS, he received his PhD in history from New York University in 2021.
“[Seaton’s] analysis is sharp and compelling and makes a considerable contribution to the scholarship surrounding what he terms ‘Britain’s best-loved institution.’”—Sarah Neville, Financial Times
“[Seaton] is insightful on the ways that American conservatism, and its grotesque distortions of what state-funded medicine involves, have fed a British defensiveness that insulates the NHS from some of the more aggressive privatising impulses in the Tory party.”—Rafael Behr, The Guardian
“An energetically detailed account of the evolution of the NHS into an institution that mops up roughly a third of what the government spends on public services and a tenth of gross domestic product.”—Frances Cairncross, Literary Review
“Well worth reading. . . . In his even-handed analysis, Seaton argues that what is remarkable about the NHS is that it has, to all intents and purposes, survived ‘the tsunami of attempts to marketise’ it.”—Henry Marsh, The Lancet
“Accomplished and assured—Seaton writes without sentimentality or cynicism about an institution that for many has become an embodiment of British identity. From Clement Attlee to ‘Clap for Carers,’ this is a nuanced account of both the evolution of the NHS and the myth-making that came with it, as Seaton navigates the history of what is at once ‘Britain’s best-loved institution’ and a service perpetually seen to be in crisis.”—Hannah Rose Woods, author of Rule, Nostalgia: A Backwards History of Britain
“In Our NHS, Andrew Seaton explores how the National Health Service, a great achievement for Aneurin Bevan and the left, became a national institution commanding widespread support. With an appreciation of the motives of those who have attacked its founding principles, to penetrating analysis of its resilience, this book is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the history of our NHS.”—Nick Thomas-Symonds, MP, author of Harold Wilson: The Winner and Nye: The Political Life of Aneurin Bevan
“A provocative, deeply-researched explanation of how the NHS—seemingly in perpetual crisis—has endured over the past 75 years. Seaton’s study is an important corrective to overarching accounts of the triumph of neoliberalism in Britain, a testament to the power of unintended consequences in policy-making, and a must-read about the strange survival of social democracy and everyday communalism into the twenty-first century.”—Deborah Cohen, author of Last Call at the Hotel Imperial
“Britain’s National Health Service remains a cultural icon—a symbol of excellent, egalitarian care since its founding more than seven decades ago. Yet its success was hardly guaranteed, as Andrew Seaton makes clear in this elegantly written, highly original history of an institution that survived numerous crises to become a model for the democratic welfare state and the very antithesis of the health inequities we face today as Americans. A brilliant, thought-provoking portrait.”—David M. Oshinsky, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Polio
“Fluidly written, richly detailed and frequently surprising, Our NHS is the portrait of a social democratic institution that withstood the assaults of neoliberalism, battle-scarred and transformed but still very much alive.”—Quinn Slobodian, author of Crack-Up Capitalism: Market Radicals and the Dream of a World without Democracy
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