Guest post: Britain before and after the NHS

Posted on Mon 23rd May 2011, 10:03am
This is a guest post by Ellie Mae O'Hagan. You can follow her on Twitter at @MissEllieMae.

My nan is 95 years old. She was 32 when the NHS was founded. I asked her to tell me about her experiences of Britain before and after a National Health Service, and what she thinks of the government. This is what she told me.

When we were little, you had to pay to see the doctor. He’d give you a treatment, then a bill. Lots of people didn’t go because they couldn’t afford it – you only really used the doctor if it was something serious. I remember my twin sister, Gladys, had a bad leg and she didn’t go to school for a year. She never saw a doctor – it was too expensive. We’d try and cure ourselves instead. Everybody had a home remedy for something. Doctors were different too: they didn’t care for you like they do now. Our doctor was a mean and snappy man. I had to get some medicine for my grandmother when she was ill once. He told me, ‘it’s not a doctor you need. It’s a vicar.’ I dreaded going to see him after that. My granddad didn’t have teeth or glasses, even though he had bad eyesight. He just couldn’t afford it. It was the same for everyone who was poor: if you couldn’t afford it, you didn’t get it.

When I was 11, my brother was born. A neighbour delivered him, and she had to walk for two miles to get to us. He died after four hours. We called him Arthur, after my other brother’s friend. There was no ambulance or anything; the neighbours laid him out instead. I remember them carrying his little coffin to Hadley cemetery. That was normal then: everybody had a friend or relative that dealt with those things. There wasn’t any fuss; we just had to look after ourselves.

When the NHS was formed, everyone was relieved. I think it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened. When your mum was born, I was in hospital for 11 days until they knew everything was ok. Your uncle was born at home and a district nurse rode to my house on her bike with a case of medical equipment. I felt looked after. There was a clinic in Oakengates I’d take the children to. They’d give them National Health Milk and orange juice. They’d weigh the baby. Children were cared for. Your mum had her jabs: scarlet fever, diphtheria, TB, polio. When I was little, children died – a boy on my road died of scarlet fever – but that didn’t happen anymore. Everyone was pleased because essential things were provided for.

I haven’t got any fault to find with the NHS. It’s looked after me. Now I have 5 tablets every morning, and the other day I was thinking, ‘well, fancy that. There was a time when you couldn’t have a tablet, and here I am having five for free.’ It’s a jolly good thing. I’ve had everything from the NHS – things to walk with, things to help me go to the toilet, things to help me see. I wouldn’t want to go back to the days of struggling.

David Cameron says he loves the NHS, but the question is: does he mean it? I think he loves it because he knows he can make money out of it. There would be uproar if the government tried to get rid of it. Everybody knows it’s a good thing. Even David Cameron talked about how much the NHS helped his son. Well, that’s the good thing about it. It’s for everybody, rich or poor. It’s even more important now there are no jobs about. Plenty of poor people can barely afford aspirin, but David Cameron probably doesn’t know the price of a bottle of cough mixture. He doesn’t have to worry about things, but he should care about those that do – people who can’t rub to ha’pennies to a penny.

I’d like to see cuts. I’d like to see the bankers get their money cut. There’s too many folks taking money off the poor, and not giving anything back. People with rent and bills – they need national health. I think we should live in a society that’s fairer, not one where the rich keep all the money for themselves. I’d like to see everyone share and share alike.

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