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NHS: 5th July 1948 – 2020. Robert Owen throws some light on when and where it all began

1 July 2020

My father was an ex coal miner in the Welsh town of Tredegar.  He had left the mine in the late 1930s because of dust on the lungs, and with his father and brother had a fish, fruit and vegetable shop half way up Castle Street which is where we lived.  At the bottom of the street was the Circle and 4 roads led into it with a large clock tower in the centre. On the corner of the next road round from Castle Street there was a small corner office and on the window were the words ‘Medical Aid’

It all started in 1890 when a group of small societies amalgamated into one called ‘Tredegar Workman’s Aid Society’. 95% of the town were members and paid halfpenny each week into the society. By 1909 this was raised to a penny.

Starting from nothing and with help from the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company and also some wealthy people, the Society was able to build a Hospital (I was a frequent attender at its casualty department). There were also two surgeries and a maternity unit (which is where I was born). The Society also had five doctors, two dentists and nurses. There was a pharmacy in both surgeries. A surgeon based at the hospital had oversight of all the medical services provided by the Society. If for some reason there was not appropriate medical support for the patient they would be sent to Newport or Cardiff for treatment paid by the society. I went to Bristol to have my tonsils out.

Aneurin Bevan was the MP for the area and when Labour came into power after the war he became the Health Minister. He was frequently in the town and as children if we saw him we would cheer and shout. He would sometimes speak to the crowds from the clock mound or the veranda of the Castle Hotel which was opposite our shop.  The stones shown in the picture are a memorial to Mr Bevan and his achievements.

The people of the area could see that when the NHS started the vision was based on its Medical Aid Society.  The Medical Aid was finally wound up in 1994 with 114 members who had paid 18p a week.  The assets from the closure were given to the hospital.

When I think of what the NHS has achieved over the years, and particularly 2020, I am pleased to remember those men and women in 1890 who had the foresight to set up the Medical Aid Society which was the foundation for the NHS today.


Robert Owen.

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