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  • Medical Campaign against Nuclear Weapons (f. 1980)
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


Records of the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (MCANW) 1980-1992
Records of Medact 1992-2005.

The majority of the records date from MCANW's formation in 1980, as well as records following the merger of MCANW/MAPW to form Medact in 1992. In addition, there are some earlier papers dating back to 1955, including some papers relating to the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW), although the bulk of MAPW records are held at the University of Bradford Special Collections. The archive includes administrative and constitutional records, including documents relating to the merger; committee minutes and papers; newsletters, journals and other publications; material on local MCANW branches; press and publicity; records from conferences and events, including conference papers and organisational and administrative papers from MCANW National/Annual conferences and AGMs and IPPNW congresses.

There are also records of the organisation's campaigning and lobbying activities, including campaign and appeal material, with records relating to MCANW's campaigns "Treatment not Trident" and "Beds not Bombs", as well as annual Hiroshima Day Appeals, and additional records relating to Medical Campaign buses, parliamentary lobbying on nuclear strategy and disarmament, and other boycotts, campaigns and appeals. The archive also includes records of the organisation's anti-war appeals and humanitarian aid, notably in the Gulf and Yugoslav wars, with a focus on conflict resolution and the impact of war on the health and welfare of citizens, refugees and children.

The archive also includes papers of MCANW's special panels and working groups (section H), including records on civil defence (Civil Defence Working Group), radiation (Radiation Panel), arms conversion, the psychosocial impact of war and nuclear strategy (SPINA), health implications of nuclear weapons (Working Group on Health and Environmental Effects on Military Activities, HEEMA), and nuclear strategy (British Nuclear Strategy Group, BNSG), as well as papers from the Nurses Working Party.

In addition, the archive contains records concerning MCANW's international links and relations with affiliated and similar-interest groups (section M). These files include papers from International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, including IPPNW appeals and studies, press and publicaton and correspondence.

The archive also includes a number of audio visual materials, including video cassettes of conferences and productions by MCANW, as well as films by similar-interest groups, and off-air recordings.

Subjects covered in the archive include civil defence; nuclear strategy; nuclear disarmament and the comprehensive test ban treaty; nuclear testing and nuclear test veterans; radiation; nuclear power; Manhattan Project; environmental change and development; conflict resolution; the Gulf War; Yugoslav wars; refugees and war; psychosocial impact of war and the threat of war; professional activism and campaigning; medical ethics; Cold War relations; international agencies; landmines; developing country debt, and other matters of concern to the organisation.



Physical description

141 boxes, 1 oversize box, 5 digital items 195 MB (204816617 bytes)


Arranged in sections A-R as follows:

A: Constitutional and governance records

B: Administrative and organisational records

C: Committee minutes and papers

D: Branches and student groups

E: Congresses and conferences

F: Campaigns, appeals and boycotts

G: Lobbying

H: Special Panels and Working Groups

J: Resources files

K: Publications

L: Anti-war appeals and humanitarian aid

M: IPPNW and international links

N: Audiovisual materials

P: Press and publicity

R: Photographs

Acquisition note

Accessions 825 and 833 were given to the Wellcome Library in Feb and Mar 2000 (including some Medical Association for the Prevention of War material subsequently transferred to the University of Bradford Special Collections), and additional material, Acc 1172, in Aug 2003. Further accessions were received from former MCANW members in 2014 (Acc 2057, Acc 2069, Acc 2105). An accrual of more recent Medact organisational papers (1990s-2000s) was donated as acc 2123 in Oct 2014.

Biographical note

The Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (MCANW) was founded in 1980 to undermine the idea that nuclear war was survivable and to highlight the medical consequences of a nuclear accident or explosion. The organisation was made up of doctors, nurses and other health professionals who used their professional expertise to campaign for nuclear disarmament. The organisation believed that doctors had a professional responsibility to inform the public and politicians about the medical implications of a nuclear attack.

In 1992, Medact was formed by a merger between the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (MCANW) and the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW). In the early years of its formation, Medact was referred to as MedAct, or Medical Action for Global Security, but it became more commonly known by its abbreviated name in later years. The focus of the organisation was broader than MAPW and MCANW, concerning itself with the environmental and sociopolitical barriers to health in addition to nuclear issues.

The Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW) was founded in 1951 by Sir Richard Doll, Horace Joules, Lionel Penrose and others as a medical lobby for peace. MAPW and MCANW worked closely together before Medact was formed in 1992, collaborating on numerous projects and conferences. MCANW and MAPW established the Medical Educational Trust (MET) together under the auspices of the Lionel Penrose Trust. The Trust aimed to further educational activities relating to the medical effects of nuclear weapons.

Along with MAPW, MCANW was a UK affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). IPPNW was founded in 1980 to coordinate the efforts of doctors campaigning against nuclear weapons in similar organisations across the world. IPPNW organised international World and European conferences, with MCANW hosting the Fifth IPPNW European Congress in Coventry. IPPNW also launched iniatives to improve communications between doctors in different countries, including medical exchanges, the people-to-people appeal, and the SatelLife scheme, which aimed to improve communications with developing countries. In 1985, IPPNW won the Nobel Peace Prize.

MCANW was governed by a National Council and Executive Committee. The Executive Committee was made up of 2 vice chairs, a treasurer, and seven elected representatives. MCANW also had a number of Working Groups and Committees including the Strategy Group, Resources and Publications Committee, International Committee, as well as a Nurses' group, GPs' group (which aimed to involve Royal College of General Practitioners in campaigning efforts), BMA group, and Parliamentary Committee.

In addition, MCANW established special panels to focus on areas of particular concern to the organisation, including radiation, the psychosocial impact of war, arms conversion, nuclear strategy, and civil defence. These panels monitored their areas of interest, organising campaigns and lobbying activities, publishing subject specific materials, and undertaking research.

Members also campaigned through local MCANW branches, which were based throughout the UK. These groups coordinated local activity and campaigns. Branch representatives reported back regularly to MCANW National Council. Some local branches coordinated activity onboard touring Medical Campaign buses, which included exhibitions on the medical consequences of a nuclear attack.

As of 2014, Medact continues to undertake education, research and advocacy on the health implications of conflict, development and environmental change.

Timeline of key events:

1951: MAPW formed.

1980: MCANW formed.

1983: MCANW and MAPW lobby together on the British Medical Association (BMA) report The Medical Effects of Nuclear War

1983: MCANW and MAPW publish The Medical Consequences of Nuclear War

1983: MCANW and MAPW establish the Medical Educational Trust.

1984: IPPNW wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

1984: Members of MCANW publish The Nuclear Casebook: an illustrated guide

1984: MCANW Civil Defence Working Group established.

1986: Douglas Holdstock, MCANW member, publishes World at the Crossroads: disarmament and development

1987: MCANW develops "Treatment not Trident" campaign into "Beds not Bombs", focusing on the resourcing of defence and health.

1987: Study Group on Psychosocial Issues (SPINA) established.

1987: Dr Martin Dace, MCANW member, publishes Everything you wanted to know about radiation and health (but couldn't find anyone to ask)

1988: MCANW launch "Even Before the Bomb Drops: the effects of nuclear weapons today" campaign, highlighting the environmental and social impact of the nuclear arms race.

1988: Medical Arms Conversion Team established.

1989: Radiation Panel established.

1989: Lynn Barnett and Ian Lee (eds) publish The Nuclear Mentality: a psychosocial analysis of the arms race

1990: MCANW hosts the fifth IPPNW European Congress in Coventry.

1991: MCANW campaigns against the Gulf War and undertakes research on the health effects of the Gulf War.

1991: Dr E Waterson, MCANW member, publishes Nuclear Emergencies: a GP's guide

1992: Medact formed as a merger between MCANW and MAPW.

1992: Working Group on Health and Environmental Effects on Military Activities (HEEMA) established.

1993: Medact seminar held on "The Emotional Needs of Refugee Children and their Families: implications for professionals"

1994: Medact volunteers make first visit to Yugoslavia to assist UNICEF psychosocial programme

1995: Medact seminar held on "Illegal Trafficking in Fissile Materials" at the House of Commons

1997: European Commission awards Medact a three year grant to highlight effects of economic policy on health in developing countries.

1998: Medact-backed resolution to BMA calling for negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) passed with large majority.

2002: Medact publish Collateral Damage: the health and environmental costs of war on Iraq

Related material

The archives of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW) are held at the University of Bradford Special Collections; files of MAPW and the Lionel Penrose Trust received with the MEDACT material were transferred there in 2001.

There is material among Alice Stewart's papers PP/AMS relating to her association with MCANW and research on low-level radiology.

Photographs from the St Albans MCANW branch are held at the St Albans Museum.

For books, reports and other printed materials from the collection of Medact, please see the main Library catalogue.

Copyright note


Terms of use

This collection has been catalogued and is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records.

Accruals note

The following is an interim description of material that has been acquired since this collection was catalogued. This description may change when cataloguing takes place in future:

1 box of records donated by Helen Zealley, received in March 2014 (acc. 2069):

Records from Helen Zealley, MCANW member, relating to her involvement with MCANW Edinburgh branch. Includes minutes, correspondence, lecture slides and related papers.

Minutes from Dec 1980 -Dec 1990; papers relating to activities by the Group i.e. organising and speaking at wider meetings, active liaison with others, correspondence etc; information from other groups, news cuttings; notes, slides and transcripts of talks, correspondence with colleagues in the Faculty of Community Medicine (now Faculty of Public Health) to share concern that doctors were finding themselves with responsibilities for planning an NHS response to Nuclear War.

5 boxes of Medact organisational material, received in October 2014 (acc. 2123):

Additional archives of the organisation, mostly from 1990s - 2000s. Includes newsletters, photographs, press coverage, and records relating to the Iraq War (2003). Also includes audio cassettes of Medact conferences, as well as a number of DVDs and floppy discs; records relating to the history of Medact, including earlier leaflets and campaigning materials.

Additional archives of the organisation, 1990s-2000s, including Nuclear/NWAP (1995-2010); Skills Drain/Preventing Torture/Sri Lanka/Environment/Debt (2000-2012); Military/Environment/Global Health/Education (2000-2012); Proposals/Fundraising/Nuclear Power/Trident/Radiation (2000s); Events/Press Releases/BMA/Consultations/Letters (1995-2012); INEW/Lebanon/Preventing Torture/Iraq (1990s-2000s); NHS / Debt / Global Health Watch (2000s); campaign posters.

Acc No 2270: Uncatalogued and not yet available. Acquired March 2016, comprising of 80 Medact posters, 20th century.

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