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Leicester Special Collections

Case Study - TB

An important health problem that had an impact on many people during this period was tuberculosis (known as TB). This is a bacterial infection that usually affects the lungs but can affect other parts of the body too. Before effective antibiotics were developed in the 1940s the main treatment was lots of fresh air and many people were treated at a sanitorium, usually Groby Road Hospital.[1] The main causes of TB were poverty, poor overcrowded housing and poor nutrition. Although these had begun to be addressed at the beginning of the 20th century, the arrival of WWII halted the progress that had been made. War time conditions and shortages meant that many patients could not be admitted to hospital and so were left in the poor conditions that had exasperated the illness in the past. In 1947 the Minister of Health for Leicester noted that ‘more patients have been nursed at home during the most infectious and dangerous period of their illness, and with the prevailing overcrowding, this must eventually lead to a higher number of cases of fresh infection due to contact.’[2]

TB wards at Groby Road hospital

TB wards at Groby Road Hospital

With the arrival of the NHS in 1948 the Groby Road Isolation Hospital and Santorium was renamed the Leicester Isolation Hospital and Chest Unit. As conditions began to improve after the war and antibiotics and vaccinations were introduced, TB began to be eradicated during the 1950s-1970s, with the rate falling from 60 deaths per 100,000 population in 1945, to just 2 by 1970 (although the rate increased between 1945 and 1950).[3] Nevertheless, many people still remember its earlier prevalence and the fear that it could cause communities.

Trevor Peake remembers the prevalence of TB during his childhood 

Ron Johnson talks about his experience of having TB as a child and the treatment he was given

An outdoor ward at an unidentified hospital in 1945

Although it isn't stated, this 1945 photo is probably of children at Groby Road Hospital

Link to 1950 information film 'Defeat Tuberculosis' - https://youtu.be/luYsfYaad_s

Link to a history of tuberculosis in the UK - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tuberculosis

[1] Clive Harrison, In Sickness and in Health (Leicester: Leicester City Council, 1999), p.46.

[2] Harrison, p.46.

[3] Harrison, p.124 and Wealthy city, healthy people? by John Welshman in ‘Leicester: a Modern History’ edited by Richard Rodger & Rebecca Madgin, Carnegie Publishing, 2016, Chapter 10, p 257.