Health and Heartbreak

Book Review NHS history

Healthcare before the NHS

Jeannie Duckworth, Austin Macauley  ISBN 978-1784558147  £7.99

The establishment of the NHS in 1948 coincided with the epidemiological transition, something most have now forgotten and which this book reminds us of.  Death from infectious disease, for which there was very little effective treatment available even if you could pay, was common. Children of all social classes commonly died in infancy and mothers in childbirth.  Richer families had better prospects of survival, but not much.  Epidemic illness swept through the population repeatedly.

The limited health service established by the 1911 National Insurance Act only extended to workers, not to their families, and it did not include hospital treatment. Duckworth’s book gives a helpful explanation of such medical provision as was available, but it concentrates on the most significant health problems – childbirth, infected milk, malnutrition, rickets, diptheria and other fevers, polio, and tuberculosis.

There are a very interesting chapters on what are now called special schools, and the amazing open air schools for delicate children, which took place literally in the open air – in parks, mostly.  There were 96 open air day schools in 1937 and 53 open air residential schools.  Lessons sometimes had to be abandoned because of blizzards.