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Deep below the streets of Tredegar in the South Wales valleys is the spot where Aneurin Bevan decided to create a National Health Service.
As a 13-year-old miner in the 1910s, he frequently witnessed serious accidents and saw co-workers suffer terrible illnesses from inhaling coal dust.
But thanks to the Tredegar Workmen’s Medical Aid Society – the inspiration for what became the NHS – Bevan observed ordinary people getting the medical care they needed.
Decades later, as Minister of Health he was the chief architect of the NHS.
Now – 70 years since its creation – his great-nieces Nygaire and Jane, and great-nephew Howard, and the people of Tredegar jealously guard his legacy.
Asked about cuts by the current Tory government, Nygaire, who trained as a nurse, says: “It’s being done a bit subversively.
“Therefore the public don’t really understand, though they recognise it’s a massive service and it is close to their hearts. People acknowledge there are tensions there.
“If you were to ask people what they would do if it was privatised there would be absolute uproar.
“Most people would be prepared to pay more so long as it’s ringfenced.”
Nygaire, 60, adds: “I think the Tories see the NHS as expensive, a headache, and as something they have to put up with. Of course there is lots of work to be done, but fundamentally it’s the best health system in the world.”
Local Labour councillor Haydn Trollope also fears what Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is planning.
Mr Trollope said: “Children at the schools here in Tredegar learn about Nye Bevan and what he did for the NHS.
“So it is very unfortunate that they are growing up in a society in which the Government is going more towards privatising the health service rather than keeping it free at the point of need.
“They are selling bits of it off, which is a betrayal of what Nye Bevan stood for.”
Bevan’s great-nieces and great-nephew, who live near Tredegar, were not alive when the NHS came into being on July 5, 1948, but they are hugely proud of the immense achievement of the brother of their granddad, William George, known as WG.
Jane, 63, said: “It was such a mammoth task, and he had to fight the whole way. There was so much opposition, even from the doctors. It’s amazing to think what he did coming from humble beginnings in Tredegar.”
Howard Bevan, 65, who was seven when he attended Nye’s memorial service in 1960 at Westminster Abbey, has something to say about some who have followed in the great man’s footsteps.
“He experienced hardship as a miner,” Howard says. “He saw so much, unlike today’s MPs, many of whom haven’t got a clue.”
Key to setting up the NHS was the idea that all care should be free at the point of delivery, a concept which came out of Tredegar’s own medical society, founded in 1890.
Nye Bevan saw how a hospital and medics could be funded by workers contributing 3p in the pound from their salaries into a central fund.
The idea of putting aside a small percentage of wages for a local health service was revolutionary. Elsewhere in Britain there was no centrally organised healthcare system.
Patients would be required to pay for any treatment.
If you didn’t have sufficient funds, you would be less likely to get an appointment with a doctor.
National Insurance had been introduced before the war but it only covered those who paid their contributions. Spouses and children were not included.
But nearly all of Tredegar’s residents were protected by the local healthcare scheme. Despite huge opposition from the Tories – and doctors who objected to no longer getting payments direct from those who could afford it – Bevan won his battle to “Tredegar-ise” the whole country in the post-war Labour government of 1945.
Bevan – his home area’s MP for 31 years – once said: “I never used to regard myself so much as a politician as a projectile discharged from the Welsh valleys…
“When I listen to the cacophony of harsh voices trying to intimidate, I close my eyes and listen to the silent voices of the poor.”
In Tredegar today the old general hospital is a redundant shell. Patients go to a new hospital in nearby Ebbw Vale, but the state of the old building – with its smashed windows and peeling gutters – seems to speak volumes about the decline of the NHS.
In the hills above Tredegar, Bevan overcame his childhood stammer by shouting at the top of his voice. He went on to be one of the country’s greatest orators.
If he was alive today, his booming voice would be heard across the nation as politicians and private companies attempt to pick apart the amazing health service he created.
‘Taking away what he gave us would be horrendous’
Born nine years before the NHS, Philip Prosser is the perfect symbol of our most treasured institution.
The 79-year-old, of Tredegar, South Wales, got free treatment for clubfoot as a child.
Vital casts and braces provided by the Tredegar Workmen’s Medical Aid Society helped him walk properly. “I was born at home but my mother had all her care needs and the district nurse’s visits covered by the Society,” says the retired plasterer.
“I received treatment up to 18 for my club feet. I had to travel to Newport, with all the costs and medical fees covered by my father’s contributions. He would pay in 3p in every £1.
“I had several operations at the Royal Gwent Hospital. I had to have irons on my legs so I could walk properly. Everything was covered. When I was nine the medical costs were transferred to the NHS.”
Resident Claire Duggan, 51, says she owes her life to the NHS after being hit by with breast cancer 18 years ago. So she is delighted to live on Aneurin Drive, dedicated to the town’s most famous son.
“I grew up knowing about him and the Tredegar Medical Aid Society,” she says. “I am conscious that if I had to pay for my care I would be dead by now.
“I think only politicians who have not experienced this, who probably have private healthcare, would want to do down the NHS.
“Taking away what we have thanks to Nye Bevan would be the most horrendous thing for the country. It frightens me.”
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