We were pleased to host Dr Agnes Arnold-Forster on November 11th, who presented a paper to the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science members entitled ‘Complaint and the 1979 Royal Commission on the NHS’.
In 1979, the Royal Commission on the National Health Service was published. Chaired by Sir Alec Merrison, the Commission covered England, Scotland, Wales and the parallel services in Northern Ireland and received 2460 written evidence submissions, held 58 oral evidence sessions, and met and spoke informally to about 2800 individuals. According to Merrison, ‘we were appointed at a time when there was widespread concern about the NHS’ following ‘a complete reorganisation of the service throughout the UK in 1973 and 1974 which few had greeted as an unqualified success’. Indeed, the commission’s report described a polarised set of perspectives about the health service, ‘In the evidence submitted to us we found a complete spectrum of descriptions of the present state of the NHS ranging from “the envy of the world” to its being “on the point of collapse”’.
This paper used the submissions of evidence from self-proclaimed ‘ordinary people’ – both workers and patients – to explore the various ways British citizens engaged with the welfare state, investigate how they felt about its services, and consider the affective and political function of complaint. In responding to calls for evidence published in newspapers, magazines, and broadcasted on television, the authors of these letters were participating in a conversation about staff and patient experiences of the NHS and demonstrating their commitment to the service’s future.