The origins of the Health Council trace back to 1902, when the first ‘Central Health Council’ was founded in accordance with the first Health Act (1901).
This first Health Act provided for the establishment of a national Public Health Supervisory Service, which was to carry out inspections under the management of the Central Health Council. This Council, consisting of the chief inspectors of the Supervisory Service and private experts, was also given the task of advising the government.
In the years that followed, the dual task – administrative and advisory – proved problematic. Although it performed its advisory role well, the Central Health Council failed as an administrative body. In 1919, the second Health Act brought a change: the government itself took over the management of the Supervisory Service, and the Central Health Council would henceforth focus exclusively on advising. From then on, it consisted of scientists and representatives of social and professional organisations, and its name was abbreviated to the Health Council. The advice given to the government could relate to both social and scientific issues.
However, the Health Council gradually transitioned into a scientific advisory body, and the role of interest group representatives in the Council diminished more and more. Shortly after the Second World War, this led to the establishment of the Central Committee on Public Health – known today as the Council for Health and Society – as a social advisory board for the government. Ten years later, the Health Council attained formal recognition as a scientific advisory body.
In 1997, a radical revision of the system of advisory bodies for the Dutch government took place, resulting in a drastic reduction in the number of advisory bodies. A revision of the Health Act both consolidated and reinforced the position of the Health Council as a scientific advisory board within the existing order. The Council was given the task of informing not only the government but also parliament about the latest knowledge in the field of public health. Traditionally, this has also included subjects such as nutrition, environmental protection and occupational hygiene, and more recently the evaluation of permit applications for medical population screening was added.
Another milestone was the Health Council’s centenary in 2002. On this occasion, the book entitled Paradox van wetenschappelijk gezag (‘Paradox of scientific authority’) was published, reflecting on the impact of the Council's advisory work. The most recent expansion of the Health Council’s sphere of activity took place in 2008, when it merged with the Advisory Council on Health Research. Since then, it has been the Council’s statutory task to provide the government and parliament with advice in the field of public health and health/healthcare research.