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Memories of a real Eastender

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Louise Tweddell talks to Margaret Reading about her career working in some of London's poorest areas

Margaret Reading
Age: 83
1948: London County Council School Nurse
Became: Area nursing officer for child health - Redbridge and Waltham Forest.
Retired: 1983

In 1946, following three years of nurse training in Portsmouth, Margaret Reading embarked on a career which saw her work across some of London's poorest east-end communities.

From general hospital nurse to district midwife, school nurse, health visitor and finally area nursing officer for child health in Essex, Margaret worked both for and independently of the NHS throughout her 37-year career.

Shortly after the advent of the NHS, Margaret, then aged 24, was employed by London County Council’s school nurse service in Hackney and Stoke Newington.

The area was still recovering from the effects of war and was one with the exact inequities the health service hoped to eradicate.

Margaret recalled: 'Working in those areas was a big eye opener, it opened my eyes to a tremendous amount of deprivation - in those days we were still talking about school treatment centres and cleansing stations for all types of infections.'

According to Margaret, most nurses at the time, including herself, were aware of the beginning of the NHS but just got on with their work without thinking of the political or social implications.

However, reflecting, Margaret said: 'I think the changes that one thought the NHS would bring, hoped it would bring, expected it would bring would be better equality because it was very much a case of who could afford to pay for what beforehand.'

Despite working hard and being integral to the health of the nation, nurses in the late 1940s were subservient to the medical profession and paid far less than female teachers and social workers, according to Margaret.

Pleased the career has now progressed in standing, Margaret believes the introduction of degrees had made the profession be seen as more than just a pair of hands.

But, with a message for those training nurses to take the NHS forward for future generations, Margaret warned: 'They must not lose sight of tender loving care, that is what nursing will always be about whatever year it is.'

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