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By Tom Dare

A HISTORIC cartoon commissioned by the British post-war government to explain the workings of the NHS after it was set up in 1948 has remerged this week.

Footage shows main character Charley, who was created in 1946 to feature in government campaigns, riding his bike down a hill as the narrator explains how the newly created NHS will operate.

Blood transfusion. Public Domain /

This is followed by the narrator showing Charley how the new health service will improve things such as maternity care and general health, before giving him a practical example where he is taken care of from start to finish after contracting an illness, without any cost to him or his family.

The NHS was founded in 1948 by Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s Labour government as part of a huge overhaul of public services in the UK.

The NHS was formed out of a long-held belief in Britain that healthcare should be free at the point of delivery regardless of wealth or status, with the atrocities suffered in the Second World War only highlighting the need for it.

X-ray. Public Domain /

The idea was that a national health service which was available to all would be funded through a combination of taxation and national insurance contributions, with newly appointed health minister Aneurin Bevan spearheading the campaign. The government encountered some opposition in its efforts to establish the NHS, notably from certain medical professionals. However there was cross-party support for the idea, with the Conservative party also seeing the need for an NHS.

Speaking following its creation, Bevan said: “There is nothing that destroys the family budget of the professional worker more than heavy hospital bills and doctors’ bills.”

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“The eyes of the world are turning to Great Britain. We now have the moral leadership of the world.”

The first ever NHS patient, on July 5 1948, was 13-year-old Sylvia Diggory, who Bevan visited in her bed in hospital. Speaking after the meeting, she was quoted as saying:

“Mr Bevan asked me if I understood the significance of the occasion and told me that it was a milestone in history – the most civilised step any country had ever taken.”

Since its inception certain parts of the NHS have changed, such as the exclusion of dentistry from the service as well as payment for prescriptions and eye glasses.

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