Intended for healthcare professionals

The Nhs's 50th Anniversary As others see us: views from abroad

A great leap for humankind?

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 04 July 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:49
  1. Steinar Westin, professor. (
  1. Department of Community Medicine and General Practice, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Medisinsk Teknisk Forskningssenter, N-7005 Trondheim, Norway

    Technological milestones, like Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon, are easily visible and readily celebrated. This is not so with the introduction of new ideas, such as the ideas and political thinking behind the British National Health Service. Fifty years on, is it worth celebrating and is there enough left to celebrate? Here is a view from Norway.

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    We need to consider whether the Beveridge plan and the War Cabinet's ideas leading up to the 1948 NHS reforms were unique to Britain. Of course not, although the idea of a publicly financed health service available to all according to need, was truly a revolutionary thought, possibly of greater importance to most people in Europe than Armstrong's step on the moon. Universally available health care was soon to become a cornerstone of the emerging welfare states in postwar Europe, not only in Britain. Indeed, some of the well reputed Dutch health services can be traced to measures implemented by the Germans during the occupation. The political ideas on how to provide health services were “ripe” at that time, some would say as a result of the labour movement's influence during the 1930s, softened and mellowed by wartime sufferings.

    Summary points

    A publicly financed health service available to all according to need grew out of the labour movement earlier this century, and examples were implemented in several European countries after the second world war

    Views of the NHS from abroad include high professional and intellectual standards in spite of meagre resources

    The spirit of British general practice continues …

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