My latest blog post for the People’s History of the NHS website accompanies the launch of a new online survey of gift-giving in the NHS by taking a look at the many meanings gifts can carry and why they might be important in the history of the NHS.
My colleague Natalie pointed me to a story in Jennie Lee’s My Life with Nye. Although she was a forceful socialist politician in her own right, she is often remembered more as the wife and widow of Aneurin (Nye) Bevan, the health minister who founded the NHS:
“There was a strict rule in Nye’s Ministry that any unsolicited gifts sent to him should be promptly returned. On one occasion, and only one, an exception was made. Nye brought home a letter containing a white silk handkerchief with crochet round the edge. The hanky was for me. The letter was from an elderly Lancashire lady, unmarried, who had worked in the cotton mills from the age of twelve. She was overwhelmed with gratitude for the dentures and reading glasses she had received free of charge. The last sentence in her letter read, “Dear God, reform thy world beginning with me,” but the words that hurt most were, “Now I can go into any company.” The life-long struggle against poverty which these words revealed is what made all the striving worthwhile.”
The giving of gifts has been a common ritual over the seven-decade history of the NHS, whether that’s giving tokens of gratitude to the staff or simply bringing in something for a patient to pass the time while they’re stuck in a hospital bed. Yet it’s an everyday feature of the NHS’s history that’s likely to be forgotten in time…
Read more at the People’s History of the NHS: Gift-giving in the NHS