Book Chapter

British health policy, 1848–1919


The year 1848 witnessed the arrival of the first dedicated official home for health policy in Whitehall, the General Board of Health. It marked the advent of a new era of central supervision and accountability in the making and implementation of British health policy. Between 1871 and 1919 the key central office was the Local Government Board. Throughout this period, health policy was always a plural formation, composed of a number of overlapping strands: sanitary reform and environmental health; industrial health and the health of children; state medicine and the control of infectious diseases; and welfare and health insurance. This made for problems of institutional coordination and administrative clarity, however. The consolidated leadership of health policy proved elusive. No particular central authority enjoyed a bird’s eye view of health policy across Britain as a whole. The implementation of health policies was highly variable across time and space. This can be explained by a number of factors: the highly localized culture of administration; a pervasive commitment to economy; and active resistance from multiple groups, among them MPs, owners of capital, councillors, and members of the public. These administrative problems should not obscure the considerable gains secured to the health outcomes for the British population. This, too, can be explained by a number of factors: the growing professionalization of health policy and its day-to-day implementation; the gradual accretion and refinement of permanent infrastructural and bureaucratic systems that set new standards of healthcare; and the scope for innovation and experimentation afforded by the relatively localized culture of administration.

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Crook, Tom

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


Year of publication: 2023
Date of RADAR deposit: 2024-01-18

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Related resources

This RADAR resource is Part of Lessons from the History of British Health Policy [ISBN: 9780856726859] / edited by Alex Mold ; Virginia Berridge (British Academy, 2023).


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