I was the first baby born on the NHS

When Aneira Thomas arrived into the world at one minute past midnight on that warm summer night in 1948 she was making her own little bit of history.

So on July 5 she will have two special reasons to celebrate - her own 60th birthday and, as the first baby born on the National Health Service, she will also be marking the 60th anniversary of an institution that is beloved in Britain and envied around the world.

Sixty years ago, the nurses and midwives at the hospital in South Wales were so excited about her birth they begged her mother to let them pick her name.

And so in a fitting tribute to the man who created one of Britain's most valued institutions, they named her Aneira, after fellow Welshman and Labour Health Minister, Aneurin Bevan.

Mum of two Aneira - who still lives in the Welsh Valleys not far from Bevan's birthplace, Tredegar - was the youngest child of seven and the only one not to be born at home.

If she had been born a day earlier, her mother Edna May Rees would have had to pay for the privilege of giving birth in hospital.

Instead, Edna was the first woman to give birth on the first day of the new National Health Service, founded on the principle that care would be free for all at the point of delivery.

Aneira, who lives in Loughor in Swansea, says: "People all around the country were waiting for the first baby to be born on the new Health Service.

"My mum had a long and hard labour, about 18 hours, and the nurses were telling her 'Hold on Edna, hold on!' They really wanted her to wait."

Then at one minute past midnight, Aneira arrived. "My mum used to tell me how excited they were when I came into the world," she says.

"They were so happy to have taken part in the birth they asked my mother if she'd let them choose my name.

"My mum was so exhausted by then she said she didn't care any more and let them. She told me she would have called me Grace.

"But instead the nurses named me after Aneurin Bevan and I was christened Aneira."

Her birth at the Amman Valley Hospital in Carmarthenshire - now a rehabilitation centre for the elderly - was the start of a life with many links to the NHS for Aneira and her family.

The grandmother-of-six has been employed by the NHS for most of her life, working as a mental health care nurse. Three of her sisters have also worked as mental health nurses and her daughter Lindsey, 33, is an ambulance technician.

Both her children, including son Kevin, 38, a highway worker, were born in NHS hospitals as were their children. And Aneira has nothing but praise for the NHS staff who nursed her father and mother in their final years.

Her father Willie, a former miner who met his wife during the General Strike of 1926, died after a long battle with lung disease in 1967.

Edna died just three years ago, aged 95, leaving behind 21 grandchildren and 65 great-grandchildren.

Aneira, whose husband Dennis passed away last September, says: "The NHS looked after my mum right up until the end. She received great care.

"She was the first of the generations to receive free healthcare and she felt very lucky about that. Both my grandmothers died early... my father's mother Mary actually died in childbirth at the age of 34.

"And because we were so poor, my mother couldn't afford to give birth to my older brothers and sisters in hospital because you had to pay. I know that a nurse called Nurse Richards helped my mother give birth.

She made sure it was a safe labour and my mother was always grateful to her."

But as a child, Aneira was not so keen on the name. Aneurin (Nye for short) is a fairly common Welsh name for boys, meaning "man of honour", but Aneira is much rarer.

She says: "My name is very unusual. As a child I used to hate my name as all the other children had common ones.

I used to think, 'Why have I got a silly name?' "But now that I'm older I feel very fortunate and privileged to be named after such an important person. My only regret is that I did not meet the great man myself." Bevan, the chief architect of the NHS, officially launched the Health Service when he visited the Trafford General Hospital in Manchester - then called the Park Hospital - later that day on July 5, 1948.

He symbolically accepted the keys on behalf of the nation and declared the birth of the NHS as a "milestone in history - the most civilised step any country has ever taken".

To celebrate that milestone - and Aneira's 60th birthday, of course - her family have organised a huge party on July 5. Its theme? Doctors and nurses.

In numbers...

£90billion - The NHS's annual budget

1.3 million - The number of people employed by the NHS in England and Wales - equivalent to the population of Prague

6.3 million - The number of emergency calls the NHS Ambulance Service received in 2005-2006 - around 720 per hour


1948 Birth of NHS on July 5.

1958 Polio and diphtheria vaccinations programme introduced for all under 15s.

1960 First kidney transplant at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary involving identical twins.

1961 Contraceptive pill made widely available.

1978 World's first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, born.

1979 First successful bone-marrow transplant on a child at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

1980 MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) introduced.

1987 World's first heart, lung and liver transplant carried out at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge.

1988 Free breast cancer screening introduced.

1994 NHS Organ Donor Register set up.