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Health Services in Britain (1962)


Main image of Health Services in Britain (1962)
35mm, black and white, 14 mins
DirectorFrank Gardner
SponsorForeign Office
ProducerFrank Gardner

Survey of the range of treatments available under Britain's National Health Service.

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'A healthy country is a strong and prosperous one'. These words, spoken by a GP during Health Services in Britain's commentary, encapsulate the sense of national pride that, despite its shortcomings, the National Health Service (NHS) has evoked since its inception in 1948. As the subject of a film jointly sponsored by the Commonwealth Relations Office, Foreign Office and Colonial Office, the NHS becomes a marketing tool in the promotion of Britain and its institutions overseas.

Taking one of the families on his list of patients, the GP commentator describes in turn how each of the three family members benefits from the NHS's wide range of services. From the father's sudden need for major surgery to the birth and subsequent development of the couple's daughter, a strong narrative thread engages the audience on a personal level and provides a convenient chronological framework by which to illustrate the comprehensiveness of the service.

The film offers today's viewers a snapshot of the state of healthcare in Britain in the early 1960s. Tuberculosis is in decline as a result of new drugs which, we are told, have "completely altered the outlook for patients." Advances in rehabilitation therapy for war pensioners at one of 21 limb fitting centres are detailed, reminding us that that WWII is still a recent memory and that there are many maimed ex-servicemen to demonstrate the human cost of war. Warnings of a gradually increasing proportion of older people in the population and the associated "grave social and economic problems" this brings foreshadow the acute awareness of this demographic change today.

Despite its brevity, the film achieves a fairly exhaustive survey of the NHS and its services. Lesser-known benefits are showcased alongside more obvious ones. For example, ten days after giving birth the mother returns home with her new baby to be met at the door by the home help provided by the local authority to help new mothers with domestic chores. Where does the father feature in all of this? The fact that a female friend, and not her husband, accompanies her home from hospital betrays contemporary attitudes to gender roles.

In its conclusion, the film makes special mention of family doctors, who are heralded as "the frontline troops in the constant fight against disease." The postwar implementation of the NHS marked an important milestone in the history of British social welfare.

Katy McGahan

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Video Clips
Complete film (13:39)
Your Very Good Health (1948)