Health before the NHS in 1945

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Not so long ago there was a time before the NHS when health care was something you didn’t get so easily. Poor families would have to pay 121/2 -13p, which is the equivalent nowadays to £10, nowadays (unless you go privately) it costs nothing just to see a doctor. If you could afford to pay a doctor you had to find the money from somewhere or you were rich. This was a problem because the poor were probably more in need of health care than the rich yet they could not get the care they needed everytime.

From the start of life parents couldn’t afford a proper doctor to supervise a birth, and so some people would go through their whole lives never seeing a doctor. If you didn’t get treatments for things like flu or diarrhoea a whole family could catch it and die out. Tuberculosis was a fast spreading disease had had no vaccine like we do nowadays, so it would spread through the whole family and the cost of treating a whole family would just be too much.

Family’s had to turn to alternatives other than the proper medical care they needed. Alternatives today can sometimes work but would probably never harm you. In those days you were allowed to put anything together and call it a medicine. Chemists around at that time would do this and call their ‘medicines’ home remedies, and the poor families that turned to them for help would trust them. There was one particular medicine called Godfred Cordial which was 70% heroin, heroin and other such things were not illegal as they are today. Another thing they used was Arsenic-poison. Families would use these medicines to calm down babies and probably seemed to work because the babies were experiencing the affects of taking heroin!

Women were worst off when it came to getting health care. When the government started to give male labourers free health care whereby they would be panel patients, the women were left out in the cold and would still have to pay high prices for their healthcare. Women had to resort to visiting a pawn broker to get money from things like their wedding ring or Sunday best clothes, to let their children or them selves see a doctor. Panel patients would go to the same places as the private patients (that paid), but would be treated last, have to wait standing up, and go through a separate door. Doctors preferred treating the private patients from the suburbs because they could make a profit from them, rather than the panel patients who they had to treat for nothing.

People were desperately in need of proper care for their teeth and eyes, but care those days was minimal. The school’s only medical service would be to check children’s hair for nits and head lice. For dentist care, poor people could go to the fairground and have their teeth pulled out. When women became pregnant, due to a lack of iron, they would often lose their teeth at the age of 21. Teeth care then meant having your teeth pulled out. That is, pulled out literally with pliers and probably no sort of anaesthetic. To have your tooth or teeth pulled out you could make a visit to the cobblers on a Saturday morning. Here you would sit on a stool with a bucket of blood by the side of you. Some people watched you have your teeth pulled out for entertainment, the cobbler would pull your teeth out with the same pliers that they would use to pull out metal nails. Those who had lost all their teeth could always buy a nice pair of wooden teeth, or some second hand teeth sold by an undertaker from a dead body.

Eye care was equally as expensive as dental care. So again it forced the poor to look for cheaper alternatives. Some people would try putting leeches around their eyes thinking that losing blood would cure an infection or correct eyesight. Many people thought they could correct their bad eyesight themselves by buying a pair of spectacles from Woolworth’s, by trying on several pairs until they find a pair that helps them see better.

Pregnancy was a major problem for women without proper health care. With no attainable birth control women were having more and more babies and were forced to try ‘back-street’ abortions. These were very dangerous and very unhealthy. They would either try to burst the womb with a knitting needle, have a dangerously hot bath or take chemicals. Back-street abortions could not only kill the baby but also the mother if it went wrong or became inflamed. Women who had not had proper medical care after so many births could suffer health problems but wouldn’t do anything about it. They could have a prolapsed womb, which also could kill them because they would lose a lot of blood. Some women could lie in bed for years before a doctor saw them. 30 000 women died from childbirth in this time and 60 000 were affected after childbirth.

Looking after a baby was another problem in it’s self. In one year there was a heat wave, babies would vomit and become very ill. One woman took her babies to a hospital and found a huge number of babies had died because of this problem, in fact 1 in 7 died. Health care could be quite good, but only if you had the money.

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