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RCN event hears about public health in inter-war years

A return to local authorities taking responsibility for childhood public health is not dissimilar to the government approach during the inter-war years, an RCN seminar has heard.
childhood public health_tile_Alamy.jpg

A return to local authorities taking responsibility for childhood public health is not dissimilar to the government approach during the inter-war years, an RCN seminar has heard.

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine senior research fellow Jane Seymour told nurses at the lecture that there had been a holistic approach to public health in the 1920s and 1930s.

Dr Seymour said doctors were employed by the local government across municipalities to address health issues largely related to poverty.

She told the event at the RCNs London headquarters on 25 January: In this period there was a holistic attitude to health, although child health was not thought about separately.

Poor environment

Bad ventilation, damp, overcrowding, stress, bad diet, lack of sunlight and outside space

A return to local authorities taking responsibility for childhood public health is not dissimilar to the government approach during the inter-war years, an RCN seminar has heard.


A nurse plays with a child during a home visit on 20th May, 1932. Picture: Alamy

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine senior research fellow Jane Seymour told nurses at the lecture that there had been a holistic approach to public health in the 1920s and 1930s.

Dr Seymour said doctors were employed by the local government across municipalities to address health issues largely related to poverty.

She told the event at the RCN’s London headquarters on 25 January: ‘In this period there was a holistic attitude to health, although child health was not thought about separately.’

Poor environment

Bad ventilation, damp, overcrowding, stress, bad diet, lack of sunlight and outside space and no running water were all recognised as issues affecting people’s health.

Around 1,800 medical officers of health (MOH) employed in every local authority in England were responsible for refuse removal, street cleansing and housing inspections, said Dr Seymour.

Public health doctors and their teams, which included school nurses and health visitors, were primarily concerned with the health of the poor, recognising the detrimental conditions they lived in.

Local councils provided baths for an affordable fee for people without running water to wash in and ran laundry facilities.

During this period, mother and baby clinics, health visiting and school medical services were also in evidence.

Concern for children

Dr Seymour added: ‘Children had special status because they were vulnerable to death and disease and they represented the future of society.

‘Education was seen as at the heart of preventative medicine.’

Public Health England chief nurse Viv Bennett added: ‘Today we have the same notion that investing in our children is vital, but we still have more to do.’

Professor Bennett said childhood obesity was as pressing an issue today in England as malnutrition was during the inter-war years.

‘Our rates are some of the worst in Europe,’ she warned.


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