England

Thousands of pre-NHS healthcare photographs discovered

Army Blood Supply Depot in Southmead Hospital, Bristol Image copyright PA/Historic England Archive
Image caption This 1940 image shows a nurse holding transfusion equipment for dried plasma

Thousands of photographs documenting healthcare in Britain before the NHS was founded have been discovered.

The 4,050 images, taken between 1938 and 1943, were uncovered by staff at Historic England's archive in Swindon.

The images show blood transfusions and sterilising equipment, as well as healthcare staff enjoying time off.

Abigail Coats, from Historic England, said the photographs show "how far some medical developments have come" and "what has stayed unchanged".

Image copyright PA/Historic England Archive
Image caption Another image shows two men transferring blood from small bottles into large bottles in Bristol
Image copyright PA/Historic England Archive
Image caption The collection shows medical procedures such as this patient having a saline bath while smoking a cigarette

The images, taken by the Topical Press Agency, offer a glimpse into wartime healthcare, medical procedures and equipment in use before the NHS was founded in 1948.

Ms Coats said they reveal health and welfare provision "at a time of social upheaval and change".

"You can see just how far some medical developments have come, but also what has stayed largely unchanged," she said.

"But they also show staff having fun and unwinding after a long working day."

Image copyright PA/Historic England Archive
Image caption One photo shows nurses enjoying time off by trying out the stationary cycles at a hospital gym
Image copyright PA/Historic England Archive
Image caption A student nurse practises on a jointed model patient at Central Middlesex County Hospital

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Image copyright PA/Historic England Archive
Image caption Staff get to grips with sterilising equipment in the operating theatre block at a Leeds hospital

The descriptions that accompany the images record the date, location and details of staff and equipment, as well as giving insights into the attitudes of the time.

One photo showing women at an exercise class includes the lines: "Peckham mothers can keep that schoolgirl figure. The cares of house-keeping and raising a family can play havoc with a mother's looks and bodily shapeliness."

Image copyright PA/Historic England Archive
Image caption This exercise class was captioned: "Peckham mothers can keep that schoolgirl figure"
Image copyright PA/Historic England Archive
Image caption The collection is being made accessible to the public to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the NHS

Historic England said it was a mystery how the photos ended up in the archive.

The collection is being made accessible to the public for the first time to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the NHS, which came into being on 5 July 1948.

Duncan Wilson, Historic England's chief executive, said the photos "have the potential to expand our knowledge of wartime medical practice and revolutionary treatments and help us delve deeper into the history of healthcare".

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