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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Wiltshire

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Hospital c.1900
© STEAM - Museum of the GWR, Swindon
A model for the NHS?

Why was there a need to provide healthcare?

Daniel Gooch
The Medical Fund Society was the idea of Daniel Gooch
© STEAM - Museum of the GWR, Swindon
The Great Western Medical Fund Society was formed in 1847; its creation was the idea of David Gooch, Works Superintendent in the Swindon Railway Works. In a letter sent in November 1847 to the Directors of the Company, Gooch suggested that the firm’s employees would be willing to pay a rate out of their wages towards the cost of securing the attendance of a surgeon at all accidents and other instances of disease and infection they might incur. There were a variety of reasons for Gooch’s letter, with a fair share of altruism and commercial self-interest thrown in.

In the year the Medical Fund Society was formed, an economic depression meant large numbers of the company’s employees had been laid off. In his letter, Gooch informed the directors that the majority of these employees planned to remain in the city in the hope that they might soon be re-employed. According to Gooch, those still in work, themselves on fixed short-term contracts with wage reductions, had offered to contribute to a medical fund whose cover would include those recently made unemployed too.

The creation of the medical fund helped alleviate two problems facing the company. Firstly, the security provided from guaranteed health care boosted the morale of those still employed by the railway works. Secondly, by providing healthcare for those recently laid off, Gooch believed he was helping reduce the risk of a cholera or smallpox epidemic.

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