This week’s post comes from Hannah Tame, Oral History Cataloguer for the Voices of Our National Health Service collection.
On 5 July 2022, the NHS celebrates its 74th anniversary. It seems appropriate then, that this week’s selection is taken from the Voices of our National Health Service oral history collection. I am currently cataloguing this at the British Library. The collection of interviews is one of the largest collections of oral histories to ever be deposited at the British Library, with interviews captured from over 1200 different interviewees.
The collection consists of interviews from the University of Manchester’s 'NHS at 70' and 'NHS Voices of Covid-19' projects combined. NHS at 70 was initially set up in 2017 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the formation of the NHS (funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund). It recorded first-hand experiences, memories and reflections of the NHS from staff, patients and members of the public. Then, with a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council - part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Covid-19 Urgency call - interviews continued remotely during the pandemic for ‘NHS Voices of Covid-19’.
This week’s clip is taken from one of the pre-Covid interviews in the collection. Interviewee Margaret was born in 1935 and was interviewed in March 2019. Sadly Margaret passed away last year. Her interview captures her career as a dressmaker for the NHS, as well as her childhood reminiscences of healthcare. Margaret recalls a pivotal moment for her family in 1940 (before the creation of the NHS in 1948) when she was just five years old and her mother contracted tetanus.
Above: Couch grass, how Mary's mother contracted tetanus. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London. See Wellcome Images. Used under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0.
This experience captured in Margaret’s interview offers a unique insight into an infection that less than 100 years ago would have been life threatening. Treatment for tetanus was relatively new when Margaret’s mother received it. Before the Second World War (when developments advanced for the treatment of tetanus) around 200 people in the UK died of tetanus each year. In 2019 there were only 4 cases of tetanus reported in England. The number is low thanks to the effective tetanus vaccine given since 1961 as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.
Margaret’s story is just one of many interviews in the collection that demonstrates how direct and in-direct healthcare experiences can impact all aspects of people’s lives. There are numerous other interviews in the collection that include experiences of tetanus. Whether that be from a nurse who treated babies with tetanus or someone’s first healthcare memory of receiving a tetanus vaccination at school. In my eyes, the huge variety of perspectives is one of the things that makes the Voices of Our National Health Service collection so valuable and interesting to listen to. Each interview, and each person’s experience allows us to see the NHS from a different viewpoint.
The full interview with Margaret Southey is catalogued at our reference C1887/281 and is available to listen to on-site at the British Library.
Facts and figures from the Vaccine Knowledge Project.
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