Una Duffy, Retired Nurse
Rural Belfast in the 1940s and 50s could be a tough place to bring up a family before and during the NHS’ infancy. Una Duffy, a retired nurse from Brockham, was fifth out of eight children born to a Catholic family and can recall the everyday challenges that made living well harder than we’re used to in 2018.
“I was the first child to be delivered free of charge, two years into the National Health Service. Prior to that my parents had to pay the midwife a small fee. In order to let the doctor/midwife know that a baby was on the way one of us had to walk 15 minutes to the nearest phone box and then they had to travel miles by car to reach us.
“I remember going to the clinic to collect the dried milk powder, aged six. We lived in basic conditions with no mains electricity and ate wild hare, birds and fish, but we managed and despite being poor all my seven siblings are still alive today and doing well.”
Astonishingly, even while raising eight children, Una’s mother worked as an auxiliary nurse, eventually being named ‘Nurse of the Year’ by her local asylum. Her prize was a small leather bound medical dictionary, which Una carried with her throughout her 34 year nursing career.
She recalls her training days living in at the London Hospital, where money was deducted from her salary to pay for board and lodgings. “I clearly remember the hierarchy in the night duty hospital dining room, the only time we were permitted to mix. Doctors and Sisters got mayonnaise while everyone else got salad cream!”
‘Prevention is better than cure’ was very much the NHS mantra of the late 1960s, much as it is now, however with smoking and seatbelts yet to be legislated against, there were high numbers of road traffic casualties, smoking-related long term conditions and child mortality.
“Those were the days when GPs smoked in surgery and patients in traction were allowed to smoke in their hospital bed. People would smoke on their sofas at home while holding baby and fall asleep. And then came the new advice to put babies down to sleep on their tummies and the numbers of infant deaths went up.”
Thankfully this trend has now been reversed. So what else has Una seen improve over time?
“Discharge pathways, rehab wards, Special Care Units for premature babies, flu jabs, tele-consultations and no more funnel and tube micro enemas!