5 July 1948 was the “designated day” on which Britain’s National Health Service came into being – borne out of the aftermath of World World War Two, and the enormous social and political changes brought about through post-war reconstruction.
75 years later, NHS providers across England and the devolved nations are marking this ‘significant birthday’ with NHS75 events UK-wide. In Wales this anniversary is especially poignant, as home of ‘architect of the NHS ‘ Aneurin Bevan – Health Minister in the post-WW2 Attlee Government – who was inspired by universal health services developed by miners unions of the South Wales Valleys, and by bodies such as Wales’ National Memorial Association (WNMA) for Eradication of Tuberculosis.
The Temple of Peace & Health, WCIA’s home today, was built and gifted to the nation by Lord David Davies of Llandinam, as a building that would become headquarters to organisations leading Welsh efforts for peace and health. WCIA’s peace heritage work has traditionally focused on the international bodies and movements who have operated from the Temple; however, there is an equally impressive heritage and story to tell on the health side.
The Temple was initially occupied by Wales’ National Memorial Association (WNMA) for Eradication of Tuberculosis, founded in 1912 with the mission of eradicating what was then Wales’ biggest killer – the scourge of ‘consumption’. The WNMA established public health campaigns, scientific research, laboratories, sanatoria (that would later become many of Wales’ main hospital sites). They became one of the world’s leading authorities on TB, sharing their findings and learning for global health through the interwar era.
Following the landslide post-WW2 election of 1945, with the government of Clement Attlee committed to creating a universal health care service, in Wales the WNMA were ‘seconded’ to become the NHS Transitional Authority, transitioning from a philanthropic third sector / charitable body, to an organ of state. WNMA experts and administrative staff, operating from the Temple of Peace & Health, took on the unenviable task over 1946-48 of creating from scratch what would become the NHS in Wales; reviewing and surveying all health providers, from local doctors to specialist hospitals, to work out who was in and out of the new public body.
It is still quite awe-inspiring today, when standing in the Temple Library, to realise that 75 years ago that chamber would have been a constant buzz of planners, meetings, negotiations, charts, lists, heated debates and hard realities – as the NHS in Wales was pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle.
On the designated day, 5 July 1948, the NHS was born, their ‘first baby’ delivered at 5 past midnight in Amman Valley Cottage Hospital, being christened Aneira Bevan in honour of NHS founder Aneurin Bevan. The NHS Transitional Authority in the Temple of Peace formally passed to the state to transform a second time – within the newly devised structure, becoming the Welsh Hospitals Board (WHB) from 1948 to 1973.
In 1973, concurrent with creation of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs and UNA Exchange, the NHS went through a major restructuring also which resulted in the WHB again transforming into South Glamorgan Health Authority (SGHA), from 1973 to 2009. SGHA led many radical health care initiatives during its time, not least becoming one of the world-leading bodies on treatment and support through the HIV-AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
In 2009, with another major NHS restructure post-devolution, SGHA became Public Health Wales (PHW), who remained headquartered at the Temple of Peace until 2017 when they moved to new offices in Cardiff Bay. PHW’s portions of the Temple have since been acquired by Cardiff University, to form part of its Cathays Park ‘estate’. Public Health Wales continue to lead Welsh health education efforts today.
The founders of the Temple of Peace & Health and of the WNMA would no doubt be astonished today at the legacy represented by the day to day work of our National Health Service. David Davies himself did not live to see the NHS’ creation, a ‘universal service’ for which he had advocated his whole life. In a twist of tragedy in 1944, having funded Wales’ first fleet of radiography vans (mobile X-Ray machines), at the launch event outside Sully Hospital Davies volunteered to undertake ‘the first photo’. Doctors present were horrified to identify that he had advanced cancer, from which he died just 3 months later on 16 June 1944 – what became known as ‘the last photo’. However, the generation of Welsh health workers and practitioners he had supported and nurtured – alongside of course many other leading figures – within just 2 years were tasked with leading creation of the NHS that has become such an intrinsic part of all of our lives to this day.
It is a sign of both this legacy, and of progress in health care itself over 75 years, that this article is brought to you by a writer who is living positively and working with a Cancer that in 1944 – indeed, even in 2004 – would have had a very minimal survival rate, not to mention being severely disabling. Seven years on from a terminal diagnosis, the opportunity to express my immense gratitude and admiration for all who work in and support the NHS – of generations past, present and future – is a very personal and heartfelt cause for celebration. And it is one story among hundreds and thousands, of life transformed over 75 years.
Excerpt from 1988 Temple 50th Anniversary – the Nation’s Health
‘A Contribution to the Nation’s Health‘ by Keith Moger, 1988 – produced for the Temple’s 50th Anniversary. Temple Archives