“From the cradle to the grave?  A personal experience of the NHS” By Barbara Beard. 11th Feb 2019

Barbara first began her talks when she was a member of her U3A Local History Group.

She became particularly interested in the NHS because she was born only two weeks after the “birth” of the NHS on 5th July 1948.

Her parents met in the Army and moved to London.  At that time hospitals were run by charities and, when her mother was pregnant with her first child she was admitted to The Mother’s Hospital, which was run by the Salvation Army.

Later they moved to a top flat in New Cross that had 50 steps up to it.  Her mother had three children and, to occupy them, took them to Peckham Health Centre.

At the Centre the idea of Doctor Scott Williamson and Doctor James Pearce was that:

“Health is a process that has to be cultivated if it is to thrive.  We begin where doctors leave off.” 

They were trying to prevent illnesses rather than cure them by helping people to keep as fit as possible.  The whole family had to join the Centre and there they did keep fit and dancing sessions.  To survive financially the Centre needed 3000 families to join but by 1947 had only 500 families paying for membership.  In 1950 the Centre closed for lack of funding and Bevan said that the NHS wasn’t ready to help with funding, although this kind of centre was possibly the germ of the idea the inspired the beginnings of the NHS.

Barbara’s family moved to Nottingham in 1950.  When she was 8 years old she was admitted to hospital with tonsillitis, where she had a bad experience with a bossy nurse, so she hated nurses!  Two years later she was in hospital again, but this time had such good care that she decided that she would become a nurse.

In 1967, the ‘Summer of Love’ Barbara became a nurse, although she started in a cohort of 26 nurses and ended with only 8 who stayed the course.  They had a 44 hour week, had to live in the Nurse’s Home, had to be in by 10 pm, no men were allowed, they had to work very hard, and if they married they had to leave.  They didn’t have much training and didn’t have much idea of what they had to do – but they had fun!

Nursing has changed so much since then, but they had parties, gave concerts, and there was a Prize Giving, something that doesn’t happen now.

In 1971, Barbara decided to become a midwife and came to Sheffield Jessop’s Hospital.  In Sheffield, she found the buses very puzzling.  Where did the ‘Circular’ go to?

The ‘Intake’ bus invited you to get on, but where did you get off?  What was the ‘Halfway’ bus half way to?  She also found that in Jessop’s Hospital there was a lovely statue of a mother and children, but some people were scandalised and wanted it removed because the mother in the statue was not wearing a wedding ring!

Barbara later worked abroad in Switzerland and Canada then came back to Sheffield to work at the Royal Hospital in the Renal Transplant department.  (She was involved in the first Transplant Olympics in 1978 and the second Olympics in 1979.)

The Royal Hospital was later scheduled to close, so the department was moved to the Hallamshire Hospital on 29th October 1978.  There was a distressing case when a transplant patient was moved in a furniture van and unfortunately died.

Barbara became a teacher, took time off from 1984 to 1991, and then went back to work with the hospice movement with Dame Cicely Saunders and Professor Eric Wilkes at St. Luke’s Hospice.  She worked for 18 years in Palliative Care education.

In 2008 she moved to Sheffield Hallam University to run a degree course in Palliative Care, and has been a volunteer at St. Luke’s Hospice for 25 years.

Barbara ended her talk by encouraging everyone to talk more openly about death, dying and bereavement.  She asked if we all were carrying a Donor Card?  Had we all planned our funerals, or at least left information about our wishes and preferences?

Had we left a digital legacy – telling our next of kin our internet password etc. so they could find any information that we may have left online?  Had we all arranged an L.P.A (Lasting Power of Attorney)?

This was a very informative, enjoyable talk, extremely well delivered by an impressive lady, who does not look anywhere near the ‘grave’ in the title of her talk!