Swindon has a justifiable claim to be the birthplace of the NHS, says John Cannon, communications manager of the National Monuments Record Centre. 'The Great Western Railway's Medical Fund, set up in the late 1840s with a cradle-to-grave approach to healthcare, was a key inspiration for Aneurin Bevan.'
So it is fitting that, in the NHS's 50th anniversary year, Swindon should celebrate with an eight-stop 'health tour' tracing the genesis of state healthcare. The tour kicks off at the National Monuments Record Centre which will have displays of original material relating to health buildings in Swindon and hospital architecture generally.
The tour moves on to the Central Community Centre, formerly a Great Western Railways Medical Fund Hospital, opened in 1871, then to the GWR museum, with a display of medical artefacts. The next port of call is the Health Hydro, an old GWR dispensary and swimming baths. 'This is a wonderful building,' enthuses Mr Cannon. 'The dispensary is visible and the Turkish baths and swimming pool are still functioning.' Built in 1891, 'it was an NHS health centre before its time'.
The Victoria Hospital, Swindon borough's first hospital, is next on the tour, followed by the Princess Margaret Hospital, the first large general hospital to be started after the NHS. The hospital will be staging a major open day with various events, exhibitions and displays, and a reunion is planned for former staff who worked there in the 1950s. The final stop is the Carfax Street health centre, a modern building, where visitors will be able to have free health checks.
The health tour will operate only on Saturday 12 September and a free shuttle bus will link the main venues. 'It is the first time all these health buildings have been open to the public,' says Mr Cannon. 'We really intend to celebrate Swindon's role in the creation of the NHS.'