Aneira Thomas holds the honour of being the first baby born on Britain’s National Health Service and, as they both celebrate their 75th birthday, she says her “best present” would be a pay rise for its embattled staff.
The fates of both have been intertwined since the clock ticked over to July 5, 1948, with former nurse Thomas dedicating decades of service to the NHS, which she credits with saving her and her children’s lives.
As both turn 75 on Wednesday, Thomas recalled what her mother Edna had told her about her extraordinary birth.
“It was leading up to midnight. She remembers the doctors and nurse in the delivery room in… a little cottage hospital at the bottom of the Black Mountains,” said Thomas in the living room of her daughter’s house near Swansea, south Wales.
“Her recollection is that instead of telling her to push… the doctor kept looking at the clock, and looking back at mum, and the words he kept saying were ‘hold on Edna, hold on’.
“And she held her breath for one minute and pushed me out the exact time the NHS was being formed by the great man Aneurin Bevan,” the mastermind of the West’s first service offering free medical care to the entire population.
“The doctors were very excited because every maternity room around Great Britain was waiting for the first baby.”
– ‘Visionary’ –
The medical team urged Edna to call her newborn Aneira, in honour of Bevan.
“It’s our national treasure — I’m proud and privileged to be a little part of history,” said Thomas, who goes by the nickname “Nye”, like Bevan himself.
It was also fitting, she said, that the first baby should be a Welsh girl, given Bevan was also from Wales.
“Nye Bevan was a visionary and I often allude to the famous words of Martin Luther King, ‘I have a dream’, so did Nye Bevan after watching the suffering in the valleys of South Wales,” she told AFP, surrounded by family portraits and her great-grandson Axell’s toys.
While “proud” of being known as the “National Health Service baby” through school, it wasn’t until later life that Thomas began to appreciate the NHS, “and now I shout it from the rooftop — it’s amazing.”
“I do feel it’s what makes Great Britain great,” she added.
Thomas said it was destiny that she would end up in the service, recalling the words of her mother, who told her when she was 11: “There we are now darling, you can be a nurse like your sisters.”
Thomas worked as a mental health nurse until she was 55, and her daughter Lindsey, 48, has been a paramedic for 24 years.
“I feel the National Health Service is my extended family,” she explained.
– ‘NHS, I love you’ –
But it was a series of life-saving interventions that left Thomas forever grateful.
“I’d eaten some peanuts and I collapsed onto the concrete. My life was saved,” she recalled.
Both Lindsey and Thomas’ son Kevin, 54, suffered life-changing brain haemorrhages, “and they’ve both been saved,” she explained.
“Lindsey was in a coma for quite a while, she’s here and amazingly back in work as a paramedic, but the care was second to none.”
The NHS’s 75th birthday has triggered a bout of soul-searching in Britain, with doctors and nurses staging unprecedented strikes over pay and overwork, while recent reports have criticised health outcomes compared to similar countries.
Thomas urged the Conservative government to stop “dismantling” the service through privatisation and for frontline workers to take a leading role in managerial decisions.
But her most heartfelt plea was for the government to award staff a pay rise in line with inflation amid an ongoing cost-of-living crisis.
“Some of them have been using food banks, it’s not acceptable,” she said.
“One rally in particular was in our local town, and there were doctors, nurses, junior doctors who had come off the night shift.
“That made me cry, to think they’d come off the night shift, treating us, saving lives, then having to walk with banners. I felt humiliated for them that they had to do this.
“I would like the government and parties of today to stop and think and really know their worth and what they do for us. And happy 75th birthday the NHS, I love you,” she added.
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