Civilian Healthcare during the War

Parish Nurses and Plans for a Town Nursing Association

Until 1919 District Nursing was provided in Bexhill by the Nursing Associations of St. Peter’s Church and St Barnabas Church. They were funded by church funds and voluntary contributions within the congregations and more widely in the community. They were entirely non-denominational in the service they gave. A letter to the Bexhill Observer in February 1914 from the Hon. Secretary of the St. Peter’s Nursing Association says, “Any contributions offered by those nursed will be gratefully accepted” and mentions the Penny Per Week Fund as a source.

Bexhill patients had access to the East Sussex Hospital by subscription and voluntary donations and an annual fund raising day was held each summer. The Hospital Day also supported the Parish Nursing Associations and the Red Cross nursing and ambulance services amongst other organisations for the sick and needy. The East Sussex Hospital was being rebuilt on a site closer to Bexhill.
Midwifery services were offered by associations affiliated to the County Nursing Association, (East Sussex Nursing Association after June 1918). On 15th May 1915 the Bexhill Observer reported an appeal from the Queen Victoria Jubilee Institute of Nurses that nurse midwives should be allowed to attend single women, a prohibition which they considered “uncharitable in principle and exceedingly harmful in practice”.

In response to the Maternity and Child Welfare Act of 1918, in January 1919 the Mayor called a meeting to Set up a Town Nursing Association. All interested parties attended including GPs and representatives of local churches as well as the Queen Victoria Jubilee Institute and the East Sussex County Nursing Federation. This Act was the latest in a series of laws aiming to improve public health and especially reduce infant and child mortality after a report in the aftermath of the Boer War, (1899-1902), revealed the “physical deterioration” of the population. Under the Act the Local Authority were required to set up a maternal and child welfare committee and were enabled to provide services such as health visitors, day nurseries and food and milk. Bexhill had already been making school milk available to poor children in years when poor harvests caused hardship.

The plan envisaged the Bexhill Nursing Association providing

“(subject to slight reservation) general nursing and nursing associated with maternity, child welfare and epidemic diseases and it was proposed that the Association should affiliate with the Queens’s Institute for Nurses and the East County Nursing Federation.”

The School Nurse and School Medical and Dental Clinics

The Bexhill Observer reports of Town Council meetings show that the health of the school children of Bexhill was a central concern that was not diminished by the War. The District Health Report for 1915, published in August 1916, gives an indication of the healthcare priorities. The Medical Officer and his team, and the School Dentist were supported by a Care Committee responsible for seeing that individual cases were followed up.

As well as physical examination and screening for tuberculosis, rickets and deformities, there were assessments of nutrition; clothing and footwear; cleanliness of head and body; and verminous heads. Mr C. H. Bradnam, School Dentist, was concerned about the “great lack of cleaning of teeth.” He goes on, “In many homes there is only one tooth brush for the whole family.” 138 children refused dental treatment which was accounted for “partly by ill-health of some of the children, and also the distance in some cases from their homes”. Sidley and Little Common were the areas most affected.

Mental condition, or intelligence, was also assessed. There was an increase in bright children from 89% in 1914 to 92%. 4% were found to be “backward”. The Education Committee were committed to examining schooling of “mentally deficient, but educable children”, and this the War was causing to be deferred. Despite terms that might seem prejudicial to twenty-first century ears, this was probably quite forward thinking for the time.

School Nurse Dudley

In January of 1918 a meeting of the Education Committee raised the salary of the School Nurse, Miss Dudley, to £90 increasing by increments of £10 to a maximum of £120 and also confirmed that she would have five weeks holiday per annum.
She had been in post for twelve months and had impressed every member of the Committee, earning glowing praise, including for “giving great satisfaction among the labouring classes of Sidley and the district”. She had extra work because of the other duties of the Medical Officer and had to cover an area from the Sluice to the far side of Sidley. All in all, “one of the best appointments the Committee had made.”

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