The Appointed Day
The Beginnings of the National Health Service in Worcestershire
A short history of how the National Health Service affected the Worcester Royal Infirmary Anastasia Maria Ciccocioppo an ERASMUS+ student of University of Bologna who spent the 2017 summer with The Infirmary and George Marshall Medical Museum on research projects.
It is common today when talking about health to think of the services available to us being obvious and guaranteed. But, as you can imagine, these modern-day expectations of healthcare were not clearly conceptualized at the time a national service was being contemplated.
When did things change? How did they change and why? The “appointed day” or the day that would change the way medical care was organized in the United Kingdom was to be 5th July 1948, and next summer Worcester’s Medical Museums will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the NHS foundation.
Looking back to November, 1946, the war has just ended, hospitals are sending home the last wounded from abroad and Minister Aneurin Bevan is ready to issue the National Health Service Act.
The plans of the Minister in his political battle for a suitable and efficient health system called for one solution only: a universal and simplified access to primary healthcare.
When in his book, “The Birth of Clinic", the social theorist, Michel Foucault said that “The first task of the doctor is ... political: the struggle against disease must begin with a war against bad government.” he might have been thinking of a situation such as the one in Britain, post war.
Many doctors initially disagreed with the idea of a NHS and openly beseeched the minister to take a step back when a choice still seemed a possibility, and overstated their case that “some doctors appear unable to recognize the danger resulting from this loss of liberty...”
The sentiment in Worcestershire did not differ from the one of fear felt nationally and this was especially evident when, in regard to a circular announcing the passage of the Infirmary’s administration to the Regional Hospital Board in Birmingham, it was unanimously moved by the last Management Committee that the circular lie on the table, as a sign of protest!
This scene, that at first might appear amusing, powerfully demonstrates the sentiment of disagreement present at the time.
From 5th July 1948, the newborn South Worcestershire Hospital Management Committee, appointed by the Regional Board, would have had as its headquarters at the Royal Infirmary, becoming responsible for a large group of hospitals. Figure 2 shows analysis of expenditure 1950-51 in region’s hospitals under the Committee’s control.
The apprehension felt by the Management Committee in Worcestershire is understandable; they became the nerve centre for healthcare, taking control of over 2000 beds in the County and more than 1000 of them for mentally ill patients.
Anastasia Maria Ciccocioppo