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“No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means”


When I was a child I lived in a flat in Lausanne Road in Hornsey, part of what is known now as the ‘Haringey Ladder’. The area got this name as it consisted of a series of parallel streets, like the rungs on a ladder, bounded to east and west by Wightman Road and Green Lanes.

Late in 1948 or early in 1949, around the time of my 4th birthday, I fell ill with something that most of the other kids in the neighbourhood had already fallen ill with. I didn’t know what it was but I felt awful and itchy and had a fine collection of small blisters and spots on my chest and back. Fortunately, we had a very good local GP, Dr Shaw-Smith, a large Scottish gentleman who had a reputation for ‘being good with children’ and he was summoned. This was back in the days when house visits by doctors were not a rare occurrence and the following day Dr Shaw-Smith arrived at the front door with a cheery smile and a black bag in his hand. As this was such a notable event my grandmother who was looking after me at the time had already given the house a quick once over.

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After the usual prologue - “And how are you, Mrs Willis? Fine Doctor, thank you,” the eminent physician was escorted into my parents’s bedroom where I was lying in state in the double bed, generally tidied up for the good man’s inspection. He looked me over, took my temperature and then gave his verdict. “Chicken Pox”. There was a brief conversation with Nan… “keep him in for a few days more, calamine lotion, clip his nails to stop him scratching, it’ll resolve itself.” While this was going on Nan was rooting around inside her handbag. “Will that be the usual 5 shillings?” she asked.

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Dr Shaw-Smith laughed, an unusual thing for a doctor to do I thought. “Those days are all over Mrs Willis, Thanks to Mr Bevan and the National Health Service all health treatments are now free”. Nan stood amazed. “Does that apply to my teeth?” she asked. “Yes!” said Dr Shaw-Smith. Then Nan stepped forward and hugged him, something I had never seen her do to anyone not least of all the doctor. She hugged him… and now 70 years on, vaccinated and inoculated, tonsils and wisdom teeth removed, umbilical hernia repaired, a facial wound stitched, broken ribs bound and chicken pox spot free I would have done the same.

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At the launch of the NHS by Aneurin Bevan on 5 July 1948 it had at its heart three core principles: That it meet the needs of everyone, that it be free at the point of delivery, and that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay. Since then there have been changes. In 1951 the NHS introduced charges for glasses and dentures - and gone were Granny’s teeth. In 1952 Winston Churchill’s conservative government introduced prescription charges. There have been more changes since.

Michael Sheen introduces the National Health Service

and ‘YOURS’ - a song about them and us.

– from Martyn Day