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Health, housing and adult social services

I am afraid that Harry Leslie Smith is an unreliable historical witness

Today the Labour party has used 91 year old Harry Leslie Smith in its party political broadcast. He is two years younger than my Dad so I do know something of the world he grew up in, albeit second hand. Smith’s story about his sister is heart wrenching but I think he is an unreliable historical witness who is peddling a distorted view of the pre-war world. It was a time of great social change and medical innovation. It is only a shame that these changes did not come to fruition in time to help his sister.

There were four hospitals in Barnsley when he was a boy. In particular there was the Mount Vernon Sanatorium which was acquired by Wakefield and Barnsley Councils in 1915 to be used for tuberculosis patients. So rather than there being “no social health care” there was a local authority run TB sanatorium in Barnsley. I don’t know if his sister went there or to St. Helen hospital which was originally built in 1880 as a purpose-built hospital and adjoined the workhouse. St. Helen provided for the poor, destitute and elderly. St. Helen is now the site of Barnsley Hospital.

It is a terrible shame that he lost his sister so young but TB was incurable until penicillin was widely used (at the end of World War II by the US military and more widely thereafter). Without penicillin the NHS would not have saved his sister either.

The NHS is a wonderful institution but we should get our history right.