“Are you in the Westfield?” A question often asked at our Sheffield hospitals. But what do you know about the history of the Westfield Contributory Health Scheme?
It’s an institution, now nationwide, and its origins can be traced to July 1919, founded as the Sheffield Consultative and Advisory Hospitals Council, later shortened to The Sheffield Hospitals Council.
Its formation was to support Sheffield’s four hospitals: The Royal, The Royal Infirmary, The Children’s and Jessop Hospital for Women during the aftermath of World War One.
The war had crippled finances at Sheffield’s hospitals, with accommodation short and no means to modernise or re-equip wards.
The honorary medical staff at the hospitals suggested that a Joint Council should be formed, principally to tackle the financial difficulties after the war. They put their views into writing, produced a document to present to members of the Board and asked that a Joint Council should be set up to put the finances of the hospitals on a sound basis and to make the people of Sheffield, hospital health conscious.
The Sheffield Hospitals Council stepped in with the “Penny in the Pound” scheme, devised by businessman Fred Osborn, whereby for every pound of an employee’s pay, a penny would contribute to the hospital’s finances in return for free hospital treatment, and employers would contribute a third of any money raised.
The scheme was launched in April 1921, raising almost a million pounds for hospitals in the first six years, proving to be one of the largest and most successful in the country.
It quickly caught the imagination of the city’s biggest firms, trade unions and principal employers’ associations.
For 25 years it raised nearly five million pounds, surviving the Great Depression of the 1930s, when local people still contributed to the scheme from their wages.
During World War Two the scheme continued to support the hospitals, funding a new maternity unit at Jessop’s Hospital for Women after it suffered during a heavy air raid.
It also provided two ambulances in 1942 which transported patients to the city’s hospitals, and to and from nursing homes, travelling a total of 191,788 miles.
As well as delivering 9,000 Christmas Gifts each year, it also donated Easter eggs to patients in the Sheffield Voluntary Hospitals.
On 5th July 1948, the NHS was born with the aspiration to make healthcare available to all, regardless of a person’s wealth.
The NHS threatened the viability of the Sheffield Hospital’s Council, and although contributions fell, it closed the “Penny in the Pound” scheme and launched a “Special Purposes Fund,” providing amenities that weren’t covered by the NHS to patients and hospital staff.
In 1951, the NHS was struggling and introduced charges for prescriptions, dental services, and glasses, with the Sheffield Hospital’s Council creating an extended scheme of general benefits, becoming the innovator of the Health Cash Plan.
It was also the same year that the “Hospital Cinema Service” was launched, providing patients at the city’s hospitals with a cinema, showing full-length feature films, newsreels and shorts to help raise spirits for patients.
On 14th October 1965, the organisation established the Sheffield and District Hospitals Services Charitable Fund, donating annual funds for the purchase and repairs of equipment in hospitals, since donating over £15million to local and national hospitals and charities supporting people’s health and wellbeing.
More change was on the horizon. Due to the rapid expansion of the contributory scheme, it moved into a purpose-built office called Westfield House in 1973, followed by a change of name in 1974 to become the Westfield Contributory Health Scheme.
In 1999, Westfield became pioneers of the corporate paid Health Cash Plan, whereby employers rewarded employees with cashback on essential healthcare and access to health and wellbeing services.
The scheme launched in 2000 and has since become one of Britain’s biggest providers.
Westfield Health moved to bigger offices on Charter Row in August 2016, and celebrated its centenary last year.