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The history of The King's Fund

Find out more about the history of the Fund, from our establishment in 1897 through to the present day.

The early years

The King's Fund was formed in 1897 as an initiative of the then Prince of Wales to allow for the collection and distribution of funds in support of the hospitals of London. Its initial purpose was to raise money for London's voluntary hospitals, which at that time offered the only health services available to poor people in the capital. It also ensured that the contributions raised flowed towards those hospitals in greatest need.

Several of the individuals and organisations who donated money and helped to establish The King’s Fund were linked with slavery and colonialism through their family backgrounds and business connections. Find out more about this and our commitment to address this part of our history here

Into the 20th century

In 1902, the Prince of Wales Hospital Fund for London was renamed the King Edward's Hospital Fund for London following the Prince's accession to the throne. In 1907, the King Edward's Hospital Fund for London was incorporated under the same name by an Act of Parliament. It began to extend its activities, starting to inspect hospitals, and encouraging a more rational distribution of health services across the growing expanse of the city. It took on responsibility for an emergency beds service and encouraged hospitals to open pay beds as a means of raising extra income.

Poster depicting a 'coronation gift to the King'

The King's Fund also began to develop the wider influencing role that remains a key feature of how we still work today. For example, it represented London's voluntary hospitals' concerns in health and welfare policy debates during the first half of the 20th century.

The advent of the NHS

The establishment in 1948 of the NHS – a national, tax-funded service open to all on the basis of need – inevitably led to a reappraisal of The King's Fund's charitable role, and opened up the possibility of new directions for its work.

Hospital poster saying 'Quiet please'

The foundation began to focus its expertise and resources on developing good practice in the NHS, for example through training courses, and on grants designed to support new initiatives to improve the health of Londoners.

The late 20th century

In the later part of the 20th century, The King's Fund developed an even wider remit. It hosted and supported a wide range of development projects to improve the quality of health care. It also opened a specialist health services library in Camden Town.

Photo of two women working in The King's Fund library

In the 1980s, it set up a health policy research and analysis unit, and launched a respected auditing service for health care organisations. Under the 17-year leadership of Robert J Maxwell, it developed a growing interest in health and social care issues, and in wider public health. The Fund moved to its current home, 11-13 Cavendish Square, in 1995.

In July 2008, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II granted a Royal Charter for The King's Fund which in effect gave us a new set of governance arrangements, which include a modern version of our original objectives.

In January 2009 the King Edward VII Hospital Fund for London transferred its assets to the new Royal Charter body, The King's Fund.

The present day

In an ever-changing world, our independence and expertise remain at the heart of what we do. In working to secure better health and care for all, these qualities enable us to play a special role in shaping policy, developing effective practice, and supporting individuals and organisations.

We aim to exercise influence at all levels – from national policy-makers, to frontline staff delivering care in hospitals and in the community.

The original Prince of Wales Hospital Fund for London was set up to improve health care and that remains our mission today – developing ideas, people and services.

Our commitment for the future is to bring these strands even closer together – using ideas to change health care.

Blog series: the history of The King's Fund

Library services

The King's Fund Library Service provides a unique and free source of information on health and social care policy and management.

Find out more