From doctors and nurses to cleaners, caterers, and chaplains, Horder captures the everyday humans comprising a heroic collective force
July 5, 1948 marked a seismic shift in Britain’s approach to health care: the official creation of the National Health Service nationalized and socialized medicine for generations. Before the NHS, Britain’s health care services were callous—medical care was only administered to patients who could afford it, leaving the nation’s poor masses (including children) untended and neglected. The famously cavalier approach was ridiculed by artists, playwrights, and authors. A.J. Cronin’s critical novel The Citadel, published in 1937, has been credited with transforming the public’s imagination by conceiving a magnanimous national program that would bring health care to all, free of charge, based on need rather than ability to pay. Germany’s prolonged WWII bombing campaign, the Blitz, further exposed the weaknesses in Britain’s medical infrastructure. As urbanites fled to safety in the countryside, health care networks sprawled across the UK, effectively nationalizing health care out of war-time urgency.
This expansive approach has been offset in recent years; the NHS has experienced budgetary slashes in the lasting penumbra of Britain’s post-financial crisis austerity politics. Nevertheless, it has remained a robust institution, its flexibility and commitment one of the only bright spots in a global pandemic. If the invisible hand of self-determination is the undergirding logic in Britain’s austerity revival, the NHS proves visible hands are the counter ballast force, offsetting craven political incompetence with solidarity and expertise.
To celebrate the heroes of the United Kingdom’s fight against the coronavirus, British photographer Edd Horder, inspired by the weekly national act of “clapping for carers,” has brought us behind the curtain to photograph health care workers and staff at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust in Kent. “Celebrating not only the hard work and perseverance of the frontline staff, [I] also wanted to emphasize the importance of the whole hospital working together as a team, battling to save lives and adapt to the crisis as it evolved.” From doctors and nurses to IT professionals, porters, and chaplains, Horder shows us the human faces of this heroic collective force.