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Taking the National(ism) out of the National Health Service: re-locating agency to amongst ourselves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)134-143
Number of pages10
JournalCritical Public Health
Issue number2

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [Studentship]. I would like to thank those who participated in the research for their time. Both anonymous reviewers, as well as Clare Coultas, Catherine Campbell, Flora Cornish, Megan Clinch, and all who took part in the workshop leading to the special issue gave valuable comments on drafts. I would especially like to thank Simon Cohn and Nicholas Mays who supervised me on this PhD research, and Guy's and St Thomas' Biomedical Research Centre who have funded my postdoctoral research position whilst I have written this paper. Publisher Copyright: © 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

King's Authors


Campaigns against the privatisation of healthcare in the UK have often focused on saving, or preserving, the post-war National Health Service (NHS) of the 1950s. They talk of it as a ‘national treasure’, which has long given the UK some moral high ground over countries such as the United States. I argue that seductively simplified campaign slogans can also be blunt–they can carry with them more opaque messages such as those that encourage the maintenance of a patriarchal healthcare system. As a result, campaigns to save the NHS of the 1950s also preserve the nationalism, as well as the class and gendered staffing hierarchies, which (as I illustrate) come to reproduce inequalities in the care that is delivered. Through a multi-cited ethnography focused on the delivery of hip replacements in the NHS, I argue that a more complex form of political activism is needed to bring about the equality in healthcare that the NHS promises. In this paper, I flatten assumed hierarchies of power, to highlight some ethnographic examples of how everyday actions can come to reshape antiquated power structures. I conclude by suggesting we look to how power is pieced together across networks–and how we can re-locate collective agency to within and amongst ourselves to bring about a more equal, and less nationalistic, healthcare service.

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