Tuesday, 27 October 2020

'You have brought about your own cessation'

 Last night I watched a new Who Do You Think You Are? featuring the very talented and likeable Ruth Jones, actress and writer. It was good viewing, as this show often is, and it got especially interesting when Ruth, a native of Porthcawl, was finding out about her paternal grandfather, who died before she was born. He was a central figure in the Medical Aid Societies that thrived in South Wales before the war, providing comprehensive medical care to all, in return for a small subscription. Democratically controlled, mutualist and responsive to their local communities, these were, you might have thought, a model for how the embryonic National Health Service should develop. Ruth's grandfather certainly thought so, and bombarded Nye Bevan (the South Walian health secretary) with ever more urgent pleas to be included in the discussions that were shaping what was to be the NHS – and to be part of that NHS when it was up and running. This got him nowhere, and the Medical Aid Societies were sidelined throughout, and done away with altogether when the NHS took over ('By your very efficiency you have brought about your own cessation,' said Bevan) – a state-owned, state-controlled, socialist monolith, with little or no room for democratic control, mutualism and community responsiveness. The received wisdom is that Bevan did base the new service on the Medical Aid Society model – but the correspondence uncovered in this programme told a very different story.
Things would surely have been better if the emergent NHS had indeed been based more on what was already going on in South Wales and elsewhere, and less on top-down Soviet-style statism. 

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