Noel Browne (20 December 1915-21 May 1997) was an Irish politician and doctor.
Noel Browne was born on 20 December 1915 in Waterford. He was educated in Athlone and Ballinrobe as his father travelled around the country. Both his parents died as a result of tuberculosis during the twenties. In 1929 he was admitted free of charge to a preparatory school in Eastbourne, England. He then won a scholarship to public school and befriended a Neville Chance, a wealthy boy from Dublin. His family paid Browne's way through medical school in Trinity College.
In 1940 Browne contracted tuberculosis himself, but was treated in an English sanatorium. He recovered and passed his medical exams in 1942. He worked in numerous sanatoria throughout Ireland and England, witnessing the ravages of the disease. He soon concluded that politics was the only way in which he could make an attack on the scourge of tuberculosis. Browne joined Clann na Poblachta and was elected to Dáil Éireann in 1948. He was appointed Minister for Health on his first day in the first inter-party government.
A White Paper report on health had been prepared by the previous government in 1946. Browne now set about implementing the changes it advocated. His health campaign coincided with the development of new drugs that eliminated long hospital stays and the extent of disease. He introduced mass free screening for tuberculosis sufferers and sold department assets to finance his campaign, which helped dramatically reduce the incidence of tuberculosis in Ireland.
In 1950 Browne proposed introducing a scheme which would provide free maternity care for all mothers and free medical care for all children up to the age of sixteen, regardless of income. The Mother and Child Scheme as it became known met with ferocious opposition from the Catholic hierarchy and the Irish doctors. The Catholic Church opposed the scheme because they believed that it was the right of every parent to provide health care for their child. They also feared that it could pave the way for abortion and birth control. Doctors disapproved of the scheme because they feared a loss of income. Browne refused to back down on the issue but received little support even from his Cabinet colleagues. In April 1951 Sean MacBride of Clann na Poblachta was forced to dismiss Browne from the government. The following month an election was called and Browne was elected to the Dáil as an Independent TD.
In 1953 Browne joined Fianna Fáil but lost his Dáil seat in the 1954 election. He was later expelled from Fianna Fáil. In 1957 he was re-elected as an Independent TD. In 1958 he founded the National Progressive Democratic Party with Jack McQuillan. Browne held on to his seat in the 1961 election. In 1963 he joined the Labour Party, however, he lost his seat in the 1965 election. He was re-elected as a Labour TD in 1969. He failed to be nominated by the Labour Party for the 1973 election but instead he won a seat in Seanad Éireann. He remained there until 1977 when he gained a Dáil seat as an Independent TD. Browne retired from politics in 1982.
Throughout his life Browne remained a radical and an outspoken critic of Catholic conservatism. In his medical career he qualified as a psyciatrist and worked with the Eastern Health Board in Ireland. In 1986 he published his appropriately titled autobiography, Against the Tide. He retired to Baile na hAbhann, County Galway with his wife Phylis.