Oral archive delves into post and pre-NHS East Midlands worlds

To mark the 75th anniversary of the NHS, the University of Leicester has unearthed a treasure trove of spoken accounts of healthcare through the decades.

The team at the East Midlands Oral History Archive, which is based at the University, has selected a number of clips of people from the East Midlands talking about the NHS and healthcare in the region. Most of the recordings were made in the 1980s.

Those interviewed over the years include a 1930s midwife, a chemist in the 1910s and 1920s, nurses, doctors, and even accounts of home remedies.

There are also recordings of post-war healthcare from the 1940s and the 1950s.

You can listen to a compilation of recordings about public health during the early years of the 20th century, and the need for a National Health Service.

The compilation of clips includes recollections of various illnesses such as tuberculosis, smallpox, dysentery, pneumonia and the Spanish flu outbreak in 1919.  There is mention of the Isolation Hospital in Meadow Lane, Syston, and efforts made to promote smallpox vaccination in Leicester. Quarantine measures for illnesses including scarlet fever and diphtheria are also recalled.

Pre-NHS health insurance is also brought up by interviewees, as are descriptions of hospital facilities and the work of doctors, including details of treatments and medicines prior to penicillin and other developments in medicine.

Colin Hyde from the East Midlands Oral History Archive, said: “Many of these recordings were made in the 1980s when plenty of people remembered the pre-NHS period.

“Poorer people often struggled to pay for health care, so a long list of home remedies developed, for example, brimstone and treacle, and there was little expectation of things we take for granted, like dental care.

“One thing that sticks in my mind is the chemist recalling people queuing for laudanum, a cure-all mixture of opium and alcohol that was, unsurprisingly, highly addictive.”

The oral history recordings are being catalogued and preserved as part of the Sounds for the Future project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.