‘Hospital contributory schemes to health cash plans: a 20th century history of a British institution’

A one-day conference, to be held at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London, 22nd October 2003

The theme of this conference is the history of the hospital contributory scheme movement in 20th century Britain. It will interest historians of medicine, health policy, and voluntary sector institutions.

Consumer choice, decentralisation and empowerment are at the forefront of health policy-making today. What can the history of the hospital system tell us about how these issues were addressed in earlier periods ? And what can we learn of past examples of popular participation and workers’ activism in the health field ?

Beginning in the 19th century with workplace collections in aid of voluntary hospitals, contributory schemes developed by the 1930s into a low-cost, quasi-insurance system. Despite covering millions of subscribers the schemes were accorded no place in the tax-financed National Health Service when it began in 1948. However, many continued to exist in the post-war period as non-profit health insurers, occupying a distinctive niche by providing a mix of benefits to lower-income contributors.

The day will focus on three main themes: 1. Origins of contributory schemes, and patterns of finance and utilisation before 1939. 2. Their role in the National Health Service debates, 1937-46. 3. The movement’s provision of low-cost health insurance in the era of the NHS.

Speakers and discussants will include John Mohan, Steven Cherry, Martin Gorsky, Rodney Lowe, Tim Willis, Geof Rayner, Graham Moore

For fuller details and a registration form, please go to:


The conference is organised in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and is sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Society for the Social History of Medicine