Wednesday, July 1, 1998 Published at 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK
The first NHS patient
Sylvia Diggory and Nye Bevan at the launch of the NHS in 1948
The very first patient of the National Health Service (NHS) is still fighting fit and ready to champion the health care system that cured her half a century ago.
Today, Mrs Diggory says of the NHS: "It's fantastic - it's an incredible structure. When you really think about it there is no one else in the world who has anything to come up to it."
The important visitor
Suffering from acute nephritis, a potentially fatal liver condition, the teenage Sylvia had already been in Park Hospital at Trafford in Manchester for a few weeks when she noticed the hospital was being readied for an important guest.
The day was July 5, 1948, and the visitor turned out to be the health minister Anuerin Bevan. He had selected the northern hospital as the venue to officially launch his new National Health Service.
"I had ear-wigged at adults' conversations and I knew this was a great change that was coming about and that most people could hardly believe this was happening.
"You know, it was such a stride forward, not a step forward in social structure, that most people were really in a daze about it," she said.
'Larger than life'
Mr Bevan was a great hit with everyone at the hospital, according to Sylvia.
"He was charismatic and larger than life, very charming and articulate, with the most attractive voice with a Welsh lilt. In no time at all he had everyone in the hospital like a gigantic fan club."
"The higher echelons of the medical world and the establishment were on the whole agin' the poor man, but it didn't stop him, so he must have been a giant," she said.
Before the NHS existed, many patients had to pay to stay in hospital and the bills often meant a patient's family could remain in debt for many years. Even at her tender age Sylvia knew her parents would be very happy not to have to pay for her treatment in hospital, which in the end lasted several months.
The 'incredible structure'
But Mrs Diggory has always fiercely defended the public health care system that catapulted her into the limelight. She believes that those who criticise the NHS have lost touch with its main priorities.
"There are two four letter words that carry a lot, that's 'want' and 'need' and they really are a mile apart and I think this is one of the difficulties. It's not what people 'need' anymore, it's what they 'want' and expect," she said.
To celebrate the anniversary, Sylvia intends to return to the hospital she stayed in all those years ago for a special reception. She has become something of an institution at Trafford General, as it is now known, and even has her own plaque on the wall.
"With a bit of luck, we'll be meeting up with Frank Dobson, in whose hands it (the NHS) is mainly at the moment. I am looking forward to that and meeting up with old friends and other people they have managed to drag out of the woodwork, just like they've dragged me," she laughed.