Henry Willink

Sir Henry Urmston Willink, 1st Baronet MC PC KC (7 March 1894 20 July 1973), was a British politician and public servant.

He is best known for his service in the Conservative Party as Minister of Health from 1943-1945 in the wartime Coalition Government of the United Kingdom. He proposed many of the bases of the National Health Service later taken up by the Labour Party, but he was criticised by his successor, Aneurin Bevan, for having made too many concessions to various vested interests.

Early life and wartime service

Willink was born in Liverpool. He was educated as a King's Scholar at Eton College, where he won the Newcastle Scholarship in 1912, and at Trinity College, Cambridge. Before he could take his Cambridge degree, he volunteered for service in the Royal Field Artillery during the First World War. When only 22, Willink commanded a battery at the 1916 Battle of the Somme. Willink received the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre. Post-war, he was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1920, was appointed to the rank of King's Counsel in 1935 and became a Bencher in 1942.

Political career

Willink was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Croydon North in a wartime by-election on 19 June 1940. There was only one other candidate, an independent, who received a very small vote.

In 1940, he was appointed Special Commissioner for the homeless in London.

Willink was made a Privy Counsellor in 1943, the year he became Minister of Health. Willink served in this role until the Conservatives lost the 1945 general election. He, with John Hawton, was responsible for the 1944 White Paper, following the Beveridge Report, called A National Health Service. It proposed the creation of a fully comprehensive, universal healthcare system, free of charge and available to all citizens irrespective of means.

When Labour came into office in 1945, it presented its own plan in preference to Willink's, which it had supported. The principal difference was that Willink's plan talked of a "publicly organised" rather than a "publicly provided" service, and Labour's plan brought hospitals into full national ownership. Bevan, however, made concessions to General practitioners.

Willink kept his seat at the 1945 general election by just 607 votes, from Labour's Marion Billson. Labour's David Rees-Williams had taken the other Croydon seat. It was rumoured that Billson lost because sacks of servicemen's votes were left uncounted in the Town Hall basement. Willink resigned from Parliament on 29 January 1948, and the subsequent by-election was resoundingly won by Conservative Fred Harris against high-profile candidates.

Public service

Willink continued to serve in public positions. In 1948, he was appointed Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, a post he held until 1966. From 1953 until 1955 he was also Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. He chaired the steering committee leading to the formation of the Royal College of General Practitioners, starting in 1952. Willink later described his role as Chairman of that Steering Committee as "one of the very best projects with which I have ever been involved in my life."

In 1957 Willink served as Chairman of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Future Numbers of Medical Practitioners and Intakes of Medical Students. The committee concluded that too many doctors were being trained and proposed a 12% reduction. That was soon realised to be a misjudgement . From 1955 to 1971, he held the office of Dean of Arches, the senior ecclesiastical judge of England.

He was made a baronet, of Dingle Bank in the City of Liverpool, in 1957, and was awarded an honorary LLD by the University of Melbourne in 1955. His papers are held at Churchill College, Cambridge.


External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Glyn Mason
Member of Parliament for Croydon North
Succeeded by
Fred Harris
Political offices
Preceded by
Ernest Brown
Minister of Health
Succeeded by
Aneurin Bevan
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Dingle Bank)
Succeeded by
Charles William Willink
Academic offices
Preceded by
Allen Ramsay
Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Walter Hamilton
Preceded by
Sir Lionel Whitby
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
Succeeded by
Brian Downs
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