The Battle for Health: A Political History of the Socialist Medical Association, 1930–51, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Battle for Health

A Political History of the Socialist Medical Association, 1930–51, 1st Edition

By John Stewart


259 pages

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Paperback: 9781138350427
pub: 2020-02-01
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pub: 2019-06-05
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pub: 2018-11-09
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First published in 1999, this is the first scholarly study of the Socialist Medical Association (SMA), an organisation of left-wing medical practitioners founded in 1930 and affiliated to the Labour Party in the following year. The SMA’s aim was a free, comprehensive, and universal state medical service, democratically controlled and with all personnel, including doctors, working as salaried employees. In the 1930s and early 1940s the organisation gained increasing influence over Labour Party health policy, and consequently saw its activities as central to the creation of the National Health Service (NHS). However, once Labour was actually in power, the SMA became more and more marginalised, in part because of its difficult relationship with the Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan. Bevan, while inaugurating a service which had many features desired by the Association, none the less also felt obliged to make compromises with the medical profession. The SMA’s activities are therefore of historical interest in providing a further view of the creation of the NHS, while its ideas and proposals continue to raise serious questions about issues such as the nature and control of social welfare and the possibility of achieving a truly socialised health service.


’The full extent of the impact of the SMA is now for the first time described in [this] judicious and comprehensive study by John Stewart….’ English Historical Review ’The analysis offered in this book is a convincing one…’ Labour History Review ’This book will be invaluable to anyone who is interested in the history of the British National Health Service…’The Battle for Health’ is an absorbing and scholarly book. It describes in detail, with many references, how one of the most important social advances of 20th-century Britain came about and how a small group of doctors, with vision and determination, played a significant part in that historical achievement.’ Medical History ’There is a great deal that is interesting here, especially the subtleties Stewart explores regarding the tensions between Labour Party leaders and the SMA and within the SMA itself.’ Isis ’…this is…a thoroughly researched and fluently written book that provides a convincing analysis of both the limits and extent of the influence of the SMA. Stewart cleverly blends empirical detail with secondary analysis to locate the activities of the SMA within the wider social and political context…In highlighting the validity of the organisation’s arguments, as well as the nature of the problems that it faced, the book illustrates many issues that have an on-going significance for both socialism and health care today.’ Contemporary British History ’…a serious and significant addition to the historical literature …I can wholeheartedly recommend this book …a serious book packed full of detailed information and argument…’ International History of Nursing Journal '…a detailed, balanced, and judicious appraisal of a body whose contribution to the evolution of medical provision in mid-twentieth-century Britain is too often overlooked.' Canadian Journal of History '…a thought-provoking analysis…' Albion

Table of Contents

1. Introduction. 2. The Genesis of the SMA, 1900-1930. 3. ‘The People’s Health’. 4. The SMA, the Labour Party, and Medical Politics in the 1930s. 5. The SMA and the London County Council. 6. Fascism, Medicine, and War. 7. ‘Health of the Future’. 8. ‘The Battle for Health’. 9. ‘We Thought of It First’: The SMA and the National Health Service. 10. ‘Pure but Impotent’?

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General