NHS at 71

Remembering and Reflecting


5 July 2019 marks the 71st anniversary of the NHS. Its 70th anniversary in 2018 was celebrated with high-profile public events across the UK including services at Westminster Abbey and York Minster, and national awards to acknowledge the dedication and contribution of NHS staff.

Worldwide interest in the anniversary spoke to the iconic place the NHS holds in the public imagination as a health system which embodies fairness and equity.

Here we share voices from our Digital Archive that remember the NHS’ origins, capture the 70th anniversary celebrations and reflect on its future.


Bevan Lives On


Aneurin Bevan, the Minister of Health in the Labour Government that created the NHS in 1948, features prominently in many memories. For Welsh people especially, Bevan and his home town of Tredegar, South Wales, live on in history as the inspiration for the NHS.

Glyn Rawley Morgan, born in 1942, talks about his family’s involvement in the Tredegar Medical Aid Society. It provided free health care at the point of use in exchange for ‘a shilling a week’.



Listen to Glyn Rawley Morgan explain how Bevan aimed to ‘Tredegarise’ national health care.


Walter Conway, Secretary of the Society, is often credited for the concept that inspired Bevan’s vision of the NHS. Tredegar long-time resident Ralph Rockman acknowledges the idea came from Conway and others. But Bevan gets the credit for translating the Tredegar model into a national health service.



"Every worker—if they wanted to join it [Tredegar Medical Aid]—they paid either a penny or a shilling a week. And that covered all the hospital and doctors they needed."

Ralph Rockman



Wall Plaque at Tredegar Medical Aid Society

Listen to Ralph Rockman describe the role of the Tredegar Medical Aid Society.

Aneurin Bevan

Beyond Tredegar, Welsh people take pride in the role Bevan played and the pivotal contribution of Wales to the formation of the NHS. Rhian Matthews, Director of Integrated Care for the Hywel Dda University Health Board, when asked, ‘Is Bevan still important?’, laughs and answers, ‘Well, of course he is, he is Welsh’.  


Listen to Rhiann laugh as she states how important Bevan still is.


Bevan’s centrality in NHS history was reflected in the NHS 70 celebrations in Wales. His niece, Nygaire Bevan, and great-niece, Jane Williams, played leading roles in the events. They are pictured here with project officer, James McSharry, at the launch of an exhibition at Llandough Hospital to mark 70 years of the NHS. Other festivities included a symbolic pilgrimage of this miner’s lamp from Tredegar to the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff.




Wales NHS at 70 Exhibition

Nygaire Bevan, Jane Williams and James McSharry

Looking back at the 70th anniversary


Anniversaries have been commemorated through the course of the NHS’ 70 years, often used as a focus to draw attention to development or funding needs, as well as to acknowledge staff contributions. But the celebrations in 2018 were unmatched in scale and depth of public engagement with the anniversary.


Antony Tiernan, Director of Engagement and  Communications for NHS 70 at NHS England, masterminded the organisation of the 70th anniversary. Reflecting on this experience in his interview for our Digital Archive, he remarks how the public interest and response to the anniversary completely exceeded his expectations.


"I didn’t think it would be as big as it became—I think partly because of what we did. I didn’t expect the level of ‘social movement’ that was connected to it. But the pieces just came together."



Antony Tiernan pictured at NHS Confed in 2018.

Listen to Antony reflect on the day of the 70th anniversary.

The anniversary brought celebrity status to some of the NHS’ longest serving staff members.

Ethel Armstrong MBE, born in 1930, trained as a nurse and then as a radiologist. She was part of Liverpool John Moores University’s pilot project for mobile breast cancer screening vans. After retirement, she became heavily involved in the NHS Retirement Fellowship. The NHS, she says, ‘has been [her] whole life’. Throughout 2018 Ethel travelled up, down and across the UK to attend celebrations and share her reflections on the NHS, past, present and future. ‘It literally went ballistic,’ she comments. Ethel relished the excitement of participating in such an historic event.


Ethel Armstrong pictured at Westminster Abbey, 5th July 2018

Ethel Armstrong at Westminster Abbey, 5th July 2018

Listen to Ethel Armstrong speak of her involvement in the 70th anniversary events.




For June Rosen, her involvement in the celebrations was an opportunity to remember her childhood and parents. Born in 1940, June was the daughter of Leslie Lever, Member of Parliament for Manchester Ardwick.

Bevan stayed with her family the night before he launched the NHS at Park Hospital (now Trafford General) and June remembers taking him breakfast in bed. June was invited back to Trafford Hospital on 5 July 2018 for a special ceremony during which Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, unveiled a commemorative blue plaque.

June has spent a long career working in the NHS as a physiotherapist. She spoke about her and her family’s involvement in the various NHS anniversaries and also of the value of such celebrations.

June Rosen Pictured at Trafford Hospital, 5th July 2018

June Rosen at Trafford Hospital 5th July 2018

Listen to June Rosen speak about her mother’s involvement in the 50th anniversary of the NHS.

Watch June in our film about Trafford Hospital here


Reflections on the future


The anniversary was also an opportunity to reflect on the challenges that face the NHS today. The NHS was created at a time when healthcare needs were very different. Over its 70 year history, new treatments have saved and prolonged lives and major infectious diseases have decreased. But the increase in chronic and lifestyle disease in tandem with an ageing population puts new and unanticipated stresses on the NHS that many interviewees believe should be tackled by changing the focus towards the promotion of health.


Listen to Rhian Matthews talk about the needed shift change in how people view the NHS and hospitals.

Antony Tiernan agrees the NHS is ‘not perfect’: It is a loved institution, but it is also a highly criticized institution’. 

Like many others, Antony highlights the need for the NHS to put more focus on prevention and greater responsibility for one’s own health.


Listen to Antony Tiernan discuss what is needed to move the NHS forwards into the future.

Some feel the political pressures on the NHS are part of the problem:

‘Take it out of the political arena’, recommends June Rosen. She adds, ‘But if we want all this … we’ve got to have an understanding for how it’s got to be paid for’.


Listen to June Rosen discuss how we must consider the costs moving forward.

Balancing advances in technology with compassionate care is a concern for Ethel Armstrong. A new NHS app was launched in 2018 but as Ethel points out not all NHS users have a smartphone.

I would like to think, that when I was snuffing my last, l'd got a nice warm compassionate hand just to hold my hand...no app ever will replace that.

Listen to Ethel Armstrong talk about what technology can’t provide in medicine.


Stories from people who had worked and experienced NHS care, particularly in the early years, were placed centre stage of the NHS70 campaign. For Antony Tiernan ‘the opportunity to meet these people and sit with them one to one’ was the most important and memorable part of the year.

NHS at 70: The Story Of Our Lives has been able to capture many of these voices and memories to preserve them for future generations in our Digital Archive. Throughout the celebrations reminiscences of the past created a vibrant space for connecting generations across the highs and lows of NHS history.

We are collecting stories from patients, staff and the public until June 2020. Click here to get in touch to share your story now and be part of NHS history.