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13 November 2014

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You are in: Wiltshire > History > Local History > The NHS: Born in Swindon

GWR Medical Fund

GWR Medical Fund

The NHS: Born in Swindon

It was 60 years ago, this year, that the National Health Service came into the World and its birthplace was a small hospital in Swindon.

Swindon, it seems, has had its very own take on the NHS for the last 150 years or so. 

An NHS, that has not only boasted dentists and chiropodists but swimming pools and Turkish baths as well.

From the womb to the tomb

It was back in 1871 that the blue print for the National Health Service was founded by staff from the Great Western Railway.  With the aid of a hefty £1,000 donation, from the chairman of GWR Sir Daniel Gooch, the GWR Medical Fund Hospital was set up on Milton Road in Swindon.

The medical fund was a community service with a pioneering approach to healthcare.  Decades ahead of its time it offered a holistic approach, a "from the womb to the tomb" service, paid for by the community.

Small Swimming Bath, c1905

Small Swimming Bath, c1905

Sick railway workers, subscribing to the medical fund, were not only given access to a dispensary, dental surgery, ophthalmic clinic and ENT department but physiotherapists and chiropodists as well.

And by 1892, having merged with the GWR welfare services, they were also getting access to the very first medical centre in the country.

It was this new healthcare service, in the heart of Swindon, that was to become the model for the new National Health Service.

Swindon's NHS Blue Print

In the wake of the Second World War it became obvious, to the new Labour administration, that the government would have to provide some form of public health service for the large number of casualties returning from service.

So with plans for a new welfare state and a public healthcare service, that would be free to all, it was to Swindon that the pioneers of the NHS turned:

Medical Fund Hospital Operating Theatre, 1947

Medical Fund Hospital Operating Theatre, 1947

"There it was, a complete health service," said Aneurin Bevan, one of the architects of the new NHS, "all we had to do was to expand it to embrace the whole country!".

Which is exactly what they did and by 1948 the NHS, as we know it, was up and running.

The GWR Medical Fund Hospital, however, didn't fair as well and in the 1960s it closed its doors for the last time. 

Although, ironically, it was to be replaced by the first purpose-built general hospital in this country funded by the NHS… The Princess Margaret Hospital.

last updated: 03/12/2008 at 14:56
created: 30/06/2008

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