Before the NHS the provision of healthcare was very different from today. Infectious diseases were rife and thousands died of pneumonia, diphtheria, tuberculosis, meningitis and polio every year.
Infant mortality was around one in twenty and there was little the healthcare system could do to change it.
Healthcare was not a luxury everyone could afford. Those who could, paid for doctor's fees and medicine. Workers who earned under a certain amount were covered by the 1911 National Insurance Act and paid a few pennies each week and received free treatment "on the panel." Some woman and children could see a 'Club Doctor' as they paid into a 'sick club.'
Millions, the most needy and vulnerable were not entitled to free care - children, the elderly, women not at work and the unemployed.
Often, among the very poor a decision had to be made between buying necessary medicine or a loaf of bread. The loaf of bread usually won.
The poem below is firmly based on a story a resident (now deceased) used to relate to me often. He told of life before the NHS and we both shed tears whenever he told it.
The Coal Black Night
Short pants, scuffed knees, no warmth of coat,
I ill-dressed in drenching rain,
Panic in my heart tossed ragged coal
At Dr Humphries window pane.
Window opened he stretched a tired "Yes?"
"Dad's having one of his heart attacks!"
I screamed and he hurried forth
Hand clasped round his humble bag.
We raced into the coal black night
'Til we could run no more.
Breathing so hard it pained our chest
We found mother at the door.
"Hurry doctor!" she implored through tears
"I fear he is very near to death!"
Father clutching tightly at his heart,
Fighting dear for every breath.
I, cleared from the scullery
To the good room with baby Sis,
That dearest fragile scrap of life,
I gave her a frightened kiss.
I heard the wail of mothers cry
So anguished my blood ran cold.
Dr Humphriess came and hugged me tight -
His heart as good as gold.
"I'm sorry son, your fathers gone,"
His voice crackled with compassion.
Mother entered as if in a dream
Looking old, destroyed and ashen.
I ran to her shouting "No! No! No!"
My heart full of disbelief.
She crushed me deep into her arms
And we were joined in grief.
Embraced within my mothers love
We cried until our tears ran dry,
And deep within that shroud of grief
We heard the doctors anguished cry.
Tears streaming down his tired cheeks
Distraught and so distressed
He cradled Sis within his arms
Close to his heaving chest.
Baby Sis had been born to die,
So fragile, so small and weak.
We took her from the doctors arms
And left kisses on her cheeks.
The three of us stood empty then
No tears left to cry,
For death was not a stranger then
And rarely passed us by.