The first purpose-built NHS health centre

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John Scott Health Centre

On 14 October 1952, the Woodberry Down Health Centre (later renamed the John Scott Health Centre) was opened by Labour MP Somerville Hastings in a blaze of national publicity. Located on Green Lanes in Hackney it was the first purpose-built NHS health centre in Britain. Somerville Hastings, the former President of the SMA. Socialist medicine had for years promoted the idea of local health centres as the main providers of preventive healthcare, and the Woodberry Down Health Centre was intended to be the prototype for a new kind of ‘comprehensive’ health centre that would be built throughout the country. It was the first, and certainly the largest, purpose-built health centre in Britain.

Inside, a unique experiment was taking place: “For the first time in the history of the public services five health units were to be brought together under one roof”. These consisted of medical practitioners units on the ground floor with a large communal reception area and entrance onto Green Lanes. The other wings housed dental surgery, school health, child welfare, antenatal care, and a remedial exercise and child guidance unit. Each unit had examination rooms, treatment rooms, and waiting rooms. There was a canteen, a lecture hall, and a large doctor’s common room, a flat for the night doctor, a caretaker’s flat, an operating theatre and the telephone exchange.

The Woodberry Down Health Centre never became a prototype, and no more purpose-built health centres were built as part of this early NHS initiative. Medical politics trumped socialist medicine; most doctors jealously guarded their single-handed practices, and group practice was slow to arrive. GP’s did not want to work in state-owned health centres, and refused to back them. Even the first Woodberry Down doctors kept up their own surgeries elsewhere, while one doctor thought that the doctor’s common room was “a waste of public funds”.

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This page was added by Lisa Rigg on 29/03/2010.

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