My Lords, I was born in 1948, five months after the maternity unit in which I was born was taken over by the National Health Service—that was 70 years ago today and we are debating that anniversary.
Yesterday, in the House of Commons, my successor as Member of Parliament for Torfaen, Nick Thomas-Symonds, gave a lecture on Nye Bevan—on whom he has written a wonderful biography—and the National Health Service. In it, he referred to the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, which was an embryonic version of the National Health Service, based as it was on the spirit of community and solidarity of the people in south Wales. It was Nye’s intention then, as he put it, to “Tredegarise” the rest of the United Kingdom, which he successfully did. We have heard—particularly of course in my noble friend’s brilliant opening speech—of the three principles of that service: it is free at the point of use; it is financed from central government; and everybody is eligible to use it. In Nye’s words, he believed that it would,
“lift the shadow from millions of homes”.
Since Nye’s day, the NHS has of course been devolved. He was not too keen on devolution but I think that he might have changed his mind as the years have gone by. In Wales today, a country of 3 million people, we have 20 million patient contacts a year, 1 million seen in A&E, £7 billion spent on health and social services—in Wales, the two are put together—and 100,000 staff. It has been the fashion over the past few years for Prime Ministers, when they face criticism of the English health service, to say that the Welsh health service is not up to much. Far from it. In fact, it is an unfair comparison. The people of Wales worked mainly in coal, steel and heavy industry and, in consequence, there was a much greater need for health services than in parts of England. Nor was the comparison necessarily like for like because, as I said, health and social services in Wales are combined, which is not the case in England.
Over 90% of Welsh people are well satisfied with the National Health Service. More is spent per person on health in Wales than in England. Wales was the first of the home nations to ban smoking in public places, to ensure that parking in hospitals is free and to introduce free prescriptions. I certainly want to celebrate our National Health Service today by thanking all those 100,000 people who work in the health service in Wales and, of course, all those hundreds of thousands of others who work in the United Kingdom.
Finally, to quote Nye:
“Society becomes more wholesome, more serene, and spiritually healthier, if it knows that its citizens have at the back of their consciousness the knowledge that not only themselves, but all their fellows, have access, when ill, to the best that medical skill can deliver”.