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Now I can go into any company – Make July 5 NHS Day

Submitted by on July 6, 2017 – 7:34 amNo Comment

NHS book cover

By JohnyHelzapopin
“There was a strict rule in Nye’s Ministry that any unsolicited gifts sent to him should be promptly returned. On one occasion, and only one, an exception was made. Nye brought home a letter containing a white silk handkerchief with crochet round the edge. The hanky was for me. The letter was from an elderly Lancashire lady, unmarried, who had worked in the cotton mills from the age of twelve. She was overwhelmed with gratitude for the dentures and reading glasses she had received free of charge. The last sentence in her letter read, “Dear God, reform thy world beginning with me,” but the words that hurt most were, “Now I can go into any company.” The life-long struggle against poverty which these words revealed is what made all the striving worthwhile.”

The words above are taken from ‘My Life with Nye’ from Jennie Lee who married Aneurin Bevan in 1934. Jennie Lee was herself the Arts Minister responsible for setting up the Open University, another fundamental good for the poorest in our society pioneered by these Labour stalwarts. The other institution created by Nye Bevan was our NHS.

Nothing has done more for the benefit our society than the National Health Service with the key principle of caring for all medical needs regardless of ability to pay from cradle to the grave.

The inter war years of 1919-1938 saw few changes to public health provision despite the promise of homes fit for heroes and a desire for change for working people. The depression and deaths from contagious diseases in their thousands led to mass unrest in the North, Scotland and Wales. Working people were desperate for change. The second world war saw a mass effort from the nation to defeat Nazi Germany but the wartime coalition recognised the need for a post war concession, commissioning the Beveridge report in 1942. The report outlined for a welfare state that included health, housing and educational provision which was taken up by Bevan after the landslide Labour Victory of 1945.

The post war consensus that led to the Welfare State was an ambitious and unlikely ideal, a nation bankrupt by war could little afford such an expense and it required political will from a real socialist. It took the man described by Winston Churchill as a squalid nuisance during the war and nobody was a more persistent and principled critic of the man voted as ‘The Greatest ever Briton’ than the MP for Ebbw Vale. It was this principled and persistent outlook on politics that enabled Bevan to build the NHS.


It was with great opposition that the Labour Government were able to pass the National Health Service Act, notably from the Conservatives led by Churchill, the right wing press and the British Medical Association. Churchill once again did battle in the Commons against Bevan describing the Act as “undermining the freedom and independence of the medical profession to the detriment of the nation.” The British Medical Association led by Charles Hill strongly opposed the new Health Service with doctors standing to lose private practices to the state. Bevan won out however and on July the 5th 1948 the NHS came into existence.

For the first time every man woman and child in the country could see a doctor and get the help they needed no matter their ability to pay for medical care. 90% of GPs had signed up to the new Health Service. Nye Bevan speaking in Manchester on the 4th July delivered his famous lower than vermin speech and the following day visited Sylvia Diggory, in Park Hospital Trafford, the first person treated on the NHS. Churchill responded by suggesting it would be appropriate for Nye Bevan to receive psychiatric care on the NHS after his attack on the Tories but the war was won. Nye Bevan had realised his dream and given that elderly Lancashire cotton worker the dignity of pride. We can all count on our health service to care for us all from cradle to the grave.

We can all continue the proud legacy of Aneurin Bevan in supporting the striking Serco workers of St Barts Trust Hospitals. Up to one thousand workers are striking against Serco and their CEO, the grandson of Winston Churchill. We must be the folk left fighting for it to ensure the NHS will last as described by Nye Bevan. A yearly birthday celebration and reaffirmation of the commitment to our NHS in Manchester on July 5th can be something we can all get behind, its time to repay what the Health Service has given us.


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