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Leicester Special Collections

Health & Welfare

The Beveridge Report of 1942 paved the way for extensive health and welfare reforms. Beveridge sought to deal with five 'evils' - disease, want, ignorance, squalor, illness. The story of the Welfare State is well told and can be read on websites such as the National Archives and many others. This web page looks at the situation in Leicester.

In his book 'In Sickness & in Health', Clive Harrison writes that in Leicester, before 1948, if you were very ill or needed an operation you went to the Leicester Royal Infirmary, the City General Hospital or Groby Road Hospital. If you were too old or poor to look after yourself you would go to Hillcrest. Countesthorpe Cottage Homes were open for orphans, while expectant mothers went to Bond Street, Westcotes Maternity Home or the City General to have their babies. Before 1948 the doctor, the chemist, the hospital and the midwife all had to be paid, and doctors usually came to the patient. To help with payments, people could subscribe to Friendly Societies (e.g. the Ancient Order of Foresters, the Oddfellows), the Leicester Saturday Hospital Fund, or the Leicester Public Medical Service. At welfare and school clinics, such as Richmond House, nurses would weigh children, dispense dried milk, remove tonsils, cut out verrucas, pull teeth, look for nits or distribute spectacles."[1]

While the National Health Insurance Act of 1911 did create a system whereby workers were insured and could register with a doctor ('on the panel'), it didn't include dental, ophthalmic (eyes) and hospital treatment or consultant services, which needed special arrangements and costs. Nor did it cover the dependents of insured persons."[2]

Women patients outdoors at an unidentified hospital in 1945

Patients outdoors at an unidentified hospital in 1945

With the creation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948 all this changed. Health care policies were determined at a national rather than a local level and preventative medicine was being eclipsed by hospital-based curative medicine. In Leicester, the City General, the Isolation Hospital, and Westcotes became part of the Sheffield Regional Health Board. The Home Help service started in 1946, while there were plans for more post-and ante-natal clinics. A new ambulance station was based on Welford Rd. In 1948 the Council took on responsibility for a new mental health service (NHS Act) and for the care of children ‘deprived of a normal home life’ (Children Act, 1948). New clinics were started for partial hearing, enuresis, minor ailments, audiology, and nutrition. In the 1950s there were innovations in the treatment of diabetes at home and in 1952 the first diabetic health visitor service started.[3]

How much difference did the arrival of the NHS make at hospitals? At the Leicester General Hospital it took a while to make an impact and "on the face of it, little appeared to have changed. There were no new treatments available, but what was available was accessible by all. The patients saw the same doctors and the hospital looked the same and hadn't moved. The enormous changes of the next quarter century took a while to get going."[4]

Link to a 1944 film informing the public about plans for the NHS - https://youtu.be/Tz0w-ilhjI4

Link to a 1948 information film about the NHS - https://youtu.be/ebRbHDzG3pg
Link to a BBC documentary about the creation of the NHS - https://youtu.be/-ywP8wjfOx4

Educating the Public

Throughout this period the health services held exhibitions to educate the public in the ways of good health. Campaigns included clean food at home and in the workplace (cafes, restaurants, pubs etc) and the benefits of clean air. The Home Life Exhibition in 1954 had stands that showed the difference between a clean kitchen and an unclean kitchen. The example of the unclean kitchen featured a mannequin of a woman smoking! An exhibition at the New Walk Museum in 1957 looked at mental health and that year there was also an exhibition on 'The Birth of a Baby', as well as a 'Clean Food Week'. Also in 1957, 36 lectures were given on 'The Work of the City Health Department'.

Link to 1950s film about keeping healthy by drinking milk - https://youtu.be/rwMvtVD-nfs

Your Kitchen, 1954

Health exhibitions in 1954 had stands that showed the difference between a clean kitchen and an unclean kitchen. Note the cigarette dangling from the lips of the woman in the unclean kitchen!

Health Provision in 1957

Each year a handbook was produced outlining the health services available in Leicester. This .pdf gives you a flavour of the state of Leicester's health services in 1957.

Selected pages from a booklet about Leicester's health services in 1957.

Link to 1948 film, 'Charley's Very Good Health - the National Health' - https://youtu.be/iuXMmFPVuE0

Health in 1957

Each year a report on the health of Leicester was published. These reports include descriptions and statistics, and give an excellent insight into the changing health of the City's citizens.

Selected pages from a report on Leicester's health statistics in 1957.

Welfare Provision for the Elderly

The 1957 Guide to Welfare Services for Elderly People in Leicester detailed the following services:

  • National Insurance.
  • National Assistance.
  • General Information - Non-contributory pensions, National Assistance, Refund of National Health Service Charge.
  • Health Services - Registration with a doctor, Home Nursing Service, Home Help Service, Public Health Inspection Department.
  • Welfare Services - Provision of Residential Accommodation, Registration of Private Homes, Care and Protection of Property and Payment of Rent, Funerals, Welfare Services for Blind, Deaf and Dumb persons, Welfare Services for Handicapped Persons.
  • Accommodation - City Housing Department, Almshouses and other Housing Accommodation, Residential Accommodation.
  • Other Services - Old People’s Welfare Association, Evergreen Clubs, Holidays at Reduced rates, Chiropody, Meals on Wheels, Tobacco Duty Relief, Fuel ration, Wireless for the Bedridden, Wireless Licences, Cinema Concessions, Matters of Doubt.

Link to 'Charley's March of Time' information film about the National Insurance Act, 1948 - https://youtu.be/DEIV_GYC9m8

Bond Street/John Faire Hospital

The Bond Street Maternity Hospital and the neighbouring John Faire Hospital (originally the Provident Dispensary Hospital) were located on Causeway Lane where the tax offices are now. The Faire Hospital was merged with the Bond Street Hospital in 1957 and the Hospital closed in the 1971.

Link to video about Bond Street and John Faire hospitals - https://youtu.be/n4YM1hdrL3M

The Leicester General Hospital

This was renamed the Leicester General Hospital (LGH) in 1948 at the start of the National Health Service. The Record Office has a photo scrap book compiled at the LGH that covers the post-war years. It contains many photographs and press clippings and it is noticeable that very soon after the end of the Second World War nurses were arriving from India/Pakistan, Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean to receive training.

The link below is to just one of several oral histories online that cover the LGH and other hospitals in Leicester.

Link to oral history of Gertrude (Trudi) Ellen Prior, matron at Leicester General Hospital  - http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/cdm/ref/collection/p15407coll1/id/145

The Towers Hospital

This opened in the 19th century as the Leicester Borough Asylum and became the Towers Hospital at the start of the NHS in 1948. It finally closed in 2013. Link to video of the history of the Towers Hospital - https://youtu.be/pIvozSRZA3c

Link to history of the Towers Hospital - https://www.countyasylums.co.uk/the-towers-humberstone/

The Leicester Royal Infirmary

The history of the Leicester Royal Infirmary (LRI) goes back to 1771.

Link to oral history of Ernest Frizelle, who joined the LRI in 1926 - http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/cdm/ref/collection/p15407coll1/id/111
Link to history website for the Leicester Royal Infirmary (the Virtual Museum) - http://www.leicestershospitals.nhs.uk/aboutus/virtual-museum/

The Emily Fortey School

The Emily Fortey School was established in 1956 for 'handicapped children'. In 2006 it merged with Piper Way School to become West Gate, a school for 4–19 year olds with a range of learning difficulties and disabilities.

[1] 'In Sickness & in Health' by Clive Harrison, Leicester City Council, 1999, pp 5-6.

[2] ‘Saffron’s Health Depended on Wealth’ by Anne Rogerson, Coalville Publishing Company, 1992, pp 4-5.

[3] ‘Leicester in the 20th century’ edited by David Nash & David Reeder, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1993, pp 144-146.

[4] ‘The Palace on the Hill’ by Dr EH Mackay, 2006, p.45.

[5] ‘Saffron’s Health Depended on Wealth’ p. 35.