Monday 23rd July 2018

Our NHS is a modern miracle – and we shouldn’t need “Call the Midwife” to remind us

British healthcare before the NHS was inaccessible and sometimes dangerous

Recently I’ve discovered a new show that I can binge on. It’s not really new, but it’s new to me – Call the Midwife, based on books of the same name by Jennifer Worth, a midwife who began her career in the 1950s.

Reflecting true events that happened in the period, this drama opens up a window to a world that many of us are fortunate enough not to have lived in, but is important to remember.

I’m slightly ashamed to say that there were many things I was not aware of about the days prior to, and after, the conception of our NHS – and that this piece of BBC programming has gone a long way to alleviating some of my ignorance.

This year is a momentous one for women, marking a century since we got the vote. After this, so many other great feats followed, not least the developments to our ability to plan our own families and take control of our own financial situations. Let’s take a look at how things used to be.

Contraception wasn’t available on the NHS until 1961

Reproductive freedom is something that’s often taken for granted in the 21st century. Back in the 1950s, for many women, doing the deed would almost certainly carry the risk of resulting in a pregnancy.

Women wanting to plan their own families were often referred to a charity for contraceptive advice and abortion was illegal. The contraceptive pill was revolutionary and changed the lives and fates of countless women. Nowadays the pill is completely free on the NHS; you don’t even have to pay a prescription charge.

Poverty was an inevitability

There’s no sugar coating it: children are expensive. The average cost of raising a child in the UK is currently a whopping £230,000! Life may have been simpler back in the 1950s, but even the most simple life needs the basics – food, clothes, shelter, energy.

Episode 5 of season 2 tells the story of Nora Harding, a struggling mother of eight who is pregnant with her ninth child. She eventually resorts to a backstreet abortion, despite the outrage pieces written about it by papers like the Daily Mail, this was the reality for far too many women and our past needs to be acknowledged.

It is still very easy literally to breed yourself into poverty but thankfully, nowadays, women have a choice both legally, and financially.

For some women, before the NHS came along, carrying a baby to term was an expensive luxury

There were some conditions that made it impossible for a woman to give birth without the aid of a caesarean section. Nowadays we think of a C-section as a standard procedure, which we may or may not require. However, in countries without the NHS, they can cost thousands of pounds. Back in the 1940s many British women simply could not afford to have one.

For those that may be a bit apprehensive, I recommend giving this show a shot. Yes, there are some preachy NHS moments, but they’re true to life and fit in well with what other advocates like Harry Leslie Smith have been saying for a long time.

Our NHS is too precious not to fight for.

Photo by Wendy Scofield on Unsplash

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Maddy Sutherland

Maddy Sutherland

Maddy is a freelance illustrator who lives in Glasgow. She's recently graduated and is working hard to make ends meet. Self-employed? Read Maddy's experiences here.

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