"On any given day, in rooms smelling of disinfectant and hot radiators, around 1.3 million of us entrust our bodies or minds to it for treatment. It delivered most of us into the world, and will likely hand us out."
Not a bad description of the NHS, as appears in the intro to a new coffee book from Hoxton Mini Press, called simply The National Health Service.
Once again, the east London publisher has thrust its hands deep into the image archives, yanking out a stash of photography that's as sharp and brilliant as it is nostalgic.
From naked children in steampunk goggles receiving (rather terrifying) sun-lamp therapy in the same year the NHS was created, to nurses decrying a 'sick government' as they picket for fairer pay in 1969 (sounds familiar), here are moments that capture NHS in all of its greatness and crises.
It's an assortment of the workaday (kids trying on their first pair of NHS specs), to the groundbreaking (Britain's first heart transplant patient Frederick West putting on a brave face with a gaggle of nurses post-surgery).
Though the book covers the whole country, London naturally features prominently. We found it especially fascinating to see the modern St Thomas' Hospital being constructed across from the Houses of Parliament.
These days the front of St Thomas' is often the stage for protests from junior doctors and nurses, as they fight for better pay and working conditions, and the book reminds us this is nothing new — take the Raising the Roof campaign of the late 1960s, in which the Royal College of Nurses called for pay increases of up to 50%.
The release of this book (April 2023) seems altogether fitting — in a time when the country — or should that be government? — could do with reminding themselves what a good thing we've got going here.
The National Health Service, published by Hoxton Mini Press, RRP £18.95
All images © Hoxton Mini Press