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'You could see that the NHS would be a good thing for the country'

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Louise Tweddell talks to Barbara Barry, part of the first generation of NHS nurses, about life as a midwife in 1948

Barbara Barry
Age: 85
1948: Midwife in Tewksbury
Became: Health Visitor in Northampton
Retired: After a 34-year career Barbara retired in 1982

Flicking through the pages of an anatomy book inspired a young Barbara Barry to become a nurse well before the concept of the NHS came into being.

Barbara, who worked as a midwife for the army in the US during the1960s, remembers being delighted there was to be a free health service.

Remembering her work before the NHS was introduced, Barbara said: 'Sometimes the nurse would look in to see if a person was alright, this would save them the expense of calling a doctor if it was not necessary.

'You could see that the NHS would be a good thing for the country, for people to not have to pay the doctor’s fees, because it was quite expensive and meant some people had to suffer.

'When the service came in, patients didn't have to pay for all their dressings but before they used to have to pay for everything. Suddenly these things were all free.'

According to Barbara, the working hours of community nurses and midwives in 1948 were particularly long in comparison to today.

She said: 'They were all on call 24-hours-a-day, except for one day a week when doing district nursing.

'They started at 7.30am and went on until 8.30pm, with two hours off in the middle.

'Evenings started 4.30pm, but we didn't see it as a hardship.'

Pay hardly reflected the hours, but Barbara remembers always having enough to eat and help was on hand from a district nursing association, which helped Barbara and other community nurses rent and furnish a house with beds, and other necessities.

Barbara was thrilled the NHS has survived six decades and, despite believing it is more difficult for medicine to keep up with the changing pace of the world today, she said: 'I think most places seem to be doing their very best and I am so pleased that the NHS is still around today. We live in a different world now but it is still very much of value.'

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