Monday, 14 March 2016

British Science Week: Science in the Archives Monday

This week the British Science Association is running it's annual British Science Week (11-20 March 2016). Whilst archives are not usually the first thing people associate with science, repositories across the world hold many interesting science themed material. Here at Hull History Centre we will be taking part in British Science Week 2016 by posting a blog a day exploring our science theme collections.


We start the week with a medical science link as we take a look at the Socialist Medical Association (SMA). The association was formed on 2 November 1930 and was the brainchild of Dr Charles Brook. Brook proposed the association's formation and made an appeal in the Daily Herald for socialist doctors to get in touch if they supported his proposal.

Mr Somerville Hastings responded and an initial meeting was held in September 1930. Hastings had been instrumental in an earlier organisation known as the State Medical Service Association (SMSA). He would become the first president of the SMA, whilst Brook was to be the first honorary secretary.

Constitution of the SMA [U DSM3/12/1]

The SMA was formed in the context of a Labour-supported campaign for equality in the provision of health care, and to ensure that the working classes medical needs were properly provided for. The association's agenda was informed by the notion that every citizen should have the right to hospital care, that this care should be preventative and that there should be no economic barriers to accessing care. 

The vision was for a state sponsored and locally provided medical service based on collaboration by General Practitioners working in newly conceived medical centres, with the assistance and advice of hospital consultants. This agenda was taken up by the Labour Party at its conference in 1934. The campaign had strong government support in the then Minister for Health, Aneurin Bevin. He was charged with investigating the logistics and organising the founding of a 'National Service for Health' following the publication of a government White Paper published in 1944. 

In Britain, the idea that all people should have access to health care can be traced back to the 19th century. The beginnings of an intellectual discussion surrounding working class conditions and health can be seen in the writings of Robert Owen and Keir Hardy in the second half of the 19th century. In 1887, Edward Bellamy advocated a socialised comprehensive and free health service by 2000 in his treatise 'Looking Backward'. Whilst Samuel Butler also discussed the politics of health in his essay 'Erewhon' published in the late 19th century. 

Other key developments in the history of the debate surrounding the formation of a national health service can be seen in the Minority Report produced by Beatrice Webb and George Lansbury on the Poor Law in 1909, the National Health Insurance Act of 1911, the formation of the Ministry of Health in 1918, and the publication of the Beveridge Report on social security in 1942.

General Election Manifesto of the SMA [U DSM2/8]

Whilst the roots of a national health service can be traced earlier than the founding of the SMA in 1930, the association was, nevertheless, instrumental in supporting the foundation of the NHS. The association worked to progress and monitor the efforts of Aneurin Bevin through pressurised campaigning in the press and by producing publications in support of the cause. A dinner was held by the SMA on 12 January 1947 and Bevin was the guest of honour. The NHS finally came into being in July 1948, which coincidentally happened to coincide with the publication of the 100th issue of the SMA Bulletin.

In the midst of current debates surrounding the future of the NHS, it is interesting to remember the service's beginnings and the campaign to bring about equal access to the latest medical advances provided by science. The archives of the SMA [U DSM] provide one perspective on this contentious issue.

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