The Records of the Socialist Medical Association

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Minutes:

At a national level, a series of minutes of the Executive Committee, Council and Annual General Meetings is available, covering the years from the SMA's foundation to January 1993. This is accompanied in less complete form by the minutes of various committees and sub-committees, the most important of which are the Policy (National Health Service) Committee (1946-1947), the Trade Union Liaison Committee (1966-1968) and the Mental Health Sub-Committee (1950-1954).

The second deposit includes the minute book of the State Medical Service Association (later the National Medical Service Association) for 1912-1931, whilst the local workings of the SMA are revealed by the minutes of two important branches, namely Leeds and London, during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Reports:

One of the earliest reports to have survived is the submission made by the SMA in 1936 to the Voluntary Hospitals Commission, chaired by Lord Sankey, which sought to promote the idea of regional co-ordination between hospitals. The third deposit contains a series of typescript reports compiled in response to the Royal Commission on the National Health Service in 1976/77, focussing on the question of worker participation in NHS administration and management and including the SMA's formal submission in February 1977.

Correspondence:

The correspondence of successive Honorary Secretaries of the London Branch of the SMA, Dr Powell Evans, Dr Samuel Leff and Dr D M Pryce, from 1933 to 1939, comprises a substantial proportion of the third deposit of SMA records. Of particular interest is the correspondence concerning the arrangement of SMA meetings with doctors returning from voluntary medical service in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. The affiliation of the London Branch to the London Labour Party in early 1937 is documented by a number of letters from the Secretary, Herbert Morrison, as is the public health policy of Bermondsey Borough Council, the launch of the journal Medicine Today and Tomorrow and imminent implementation of air raid precautions in 1938/39.

One of the association's Honorary Vice-Presidents in the late 1970s, Clem Thomas, was responsible for organising the SMA's memorial to David Stark Murray, a former President who died in 1977, as well as the celebrations to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the NHS in 1978, and he thus produced two extensive files of correspondence.

Subject files:

Of the earlier subject files, those on the National Health Service Act in 1948, health services in other countries in the early 1950s and clean air (leading up to the implementation of the Clean Air Act in 1956) are of particular note. A file of material documents the SMA's campaign against tuberculosis in the 1950s, which involved two conferences on the subject in 1952. The activities of the association in more recent years have included the publication of the Charter for Health in 1981 and the third deposit contains both the series of memoranda issued and the responses received from MPs and other public figures.

Circulars and press releases:

A complete series of circulars issued centrally has survived for the years 1930 to 1960, whilst the press releases issued by the Honorary Secretary during the 1980s are also available, detailing the response of the SMA to the changes in the NHS introduced by successive Conservative governments.

Financial records:

Records of the SMA's finances are limited and comprise mainly monthly income and expenditure account sheets compiled by the Honorary Treasurer from 1976 to 1985, as well as a ledger containing various accounts for the years 1951 to 1974.

Photographs:

Of the photographs contained in the collection, an album compiled after the visit made by an SMA delegation to the Soviet Union in April and May 1958 should be noted, as it includes scenes inside Soviet hospitals and in Red Square, Moscow on May Day.

Miscellaneous:

Of the miscellaneous items in the first deposit, the notes on the history of the SMA and the organisation of its branches are a particularly useful source, as are the successive versions of the association's constitution, dating from 1930, 1936 and 1944. The scripts of several lectures by SMA members are available, such as the Chadwick lecture given in 1944 by Somerville Hastings on the subject of the management of hospitals in peace and war and Esther Rickards's lecture on the NHS in 1954. A single poster encapsulates the SHA's objective throughout the 1980s, namely `Defend the health service from Tory butchery'.

Labour Party:

As a consequence of the SMA's affiliation to the Labour Party, certain of its publications are included within the collection, most importantly the pamphlet For a healthy London, produced by the SMA for the London Labour Party in 1931, and a draft of the Party's policy on Health and the nation, also dating from 1931. A paper on `A scheme for a state medical service' issued in May 1942 indicates the progress of the debate on a national health service.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Socialist Medical Association (SMA) has its origins in the meeting in summer 1930 between Dr Charles Brook and Dr Ewald Fabian, Secretary of a German organisation of socialist doctors, who commented on the lack of a similar organisation in Britain, following the demise of the State Medical Service Association. In response Brook convened a meeting in London on 21 September at the National Labour Club which resulted in the formation of the SMA, with Brook as Secretary and Dr Somerville Hastings, Labour MP for Reading, as the first President. A constitution was agreed in early November, incorporating the basic aims of a socialised medical service, free and open to all, and the promotion of a high standard of health for the people of Britain. The association also committed itself to the dissemination of socialism within the medical profession and the support of `medical Members of Parliament'. The SMA was open to all doctors and members of allied professions, such as dentists, nurses and pharmacists, who were socialists and subscribed to its aims. International links were established through the International Socialist Medical Association, based in Prague, of which Dr Fabian was also Secretary.

The appointment of a Research Sub-Committee in November 1930 to address the practical questions of a socialised medical service resulted in the SMA's first major publication in 1931, namely For a healthy London. This document formed the basis of the policy of the London County Council (LCC) after the Labour victory in the 1934 LCC elections. In 1931 the SMA affiliated to the Labour Party and subsequently exerted an important influence on Labour health policy, particularly following the publication of its programme, A socialised medical service, in 1933. At the annual party conference in 1932 a resolution calling for a national health service to be an immediate priority of a Labour government was passed and two years later conference accepted a document entitled The people's health prepared by SMA members.

The association continued to lobby for a national health service throughout the 1930s and 1940s, producing statements of policy on various topics, such as occupational health services, maternity and child health services and dental services. Its official journal, Medicine Today and Tomorrow, was launched in 1937 (and re-named Socialism and Health thirty years later) and a summary of the development of British medicine in comparison with other countries was issued under the title Whither medicine? in 1939, expressing what came to be the basic principles of the National Health Service. Three members of the SMA then participated in the Medical Planning Commission established by the British Medical Association (BMA) in 1941, which issued its draft interim report in 1942. The momentum for change gathered pace in December 1942 following the publication of the Beveridge Report, one of its basic assumptions being a comprehensive health service available to all. The process of discussion subsequently initiated by the Minister of Health included a meeting with a deputation from the SMA in March 1943.

The SMA did not however limit its campaigns to health issues in Britain. The threat of fascism in Europe was clearly illustrated by the Spanish Civil War, prompting the SMA to establish the organisation Spanish Medical Aid and to assist the Republican cause by sending a medical unit to Spain in 1936.

The SMA campaign for a state medical system finally bore fruit in 1944, with the publication by the government of a White Paper on a national health service. The election in 1945 of twelve Labour MPs sponsored by the SMA enabled the association to influence the progress of the National Health Service Bill which was introduced to Parliament in 1946 and which culminated in the foundation of the National Health Service (NHS) on 5 July 1948.

At its height in 1943 membership of the SMA was 1800. However following the establishment of the NHS, the influence of the organisation waned and its role gradually changed. The SMA re-named itself as the Socialist Health Association (SHA) in May 1981 to reflect a shift in emphasis to the prevention of illness through the promotion of good health. The association is still active today, comprising about 25 branches. The SHA now operates as a modern pressure group, with the emphasis on public education and lobbying on health issues, in co-operation with like-minded organisations such as the Labour Party, the Fabian Society and trade unions.

Conditions Governing Access

Open

Note

Originally published by Access to Archives - A2A. The data in this finding aid is in the copyright of the place of deposit.