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Working for health: the carers' view

Presented here are extracts from interviews with former and current union activists who worked in hospitals and related services before and after the creation of the National Health Service in 1948. They were conducted by Mick Carpenter of the University of Warwick sociology department between 1979 and 1984 as part of his research for ‘Working for health’ (Lawrence & Wishart, 1988), his history of the Confederation of Health Service Employees (COHSE) and its predecessors. Together they chart the developments in health care and the lot of health workers through about sixty years. They can be heard in their entirety from the relevant descriptions in our on-line catalogue. You can also view 'All for one, one for all', a video history of COHSE for which Carpenter was the historical consultant.

We also hold: interviews conducted by Margaret Stacey in 1986-1989 for her study of the General Medical Council.

Herbert Hough, mental nurse, interviewed in 1979

When the events recalled in the following extract took place, Herbert Hough was a probationer nurse in his twenties and had recently taken over as the local branch secretary of the National Asylum Workers’ Union.

“One [police]man had his hand bit”: the battle of Radcliffe (2:03)

In April 1922, staff of the Radcliffe-on-Trent Mental Hospital in Nottinghamshire occupied the building in protest at a proposed increase in their working hours from 60 to 66 per week. Here Hough describes their violent resistance to the authorities’ attempt to evict them, in which some of the patients joined.


Listen to the whole interview: MSS.229/6/C/CO/7/12 side 1 (46:28), side 2 (43:47).

Jim Tymon, mental nurse, interviewed in 1979

Jim Tymon was a coal miner in Hodern in County Durham for around 23 years before becoming a nurse at Cherry Knowle Hospital in Ryhope near Sunderland in November 1961. He later became the COHSE branch secretary there.

"There were certain wards . . . where you were looking over your shoulder constantly” (1:59)

Tymon describes the frustration and potential danger caused by the harsh treatment, overcrowding and locked doors during his early career and the improvements arising from the later liberalisation of mental hospital regimes (“the act of opening the doors”).


Listen to the whole interview: MSS.229/6/C/CO/7/17 side 1 (45:57, side 2 (45:55).

Bert Waites, mental nurse, interviewed in 1979

Bert Waites was born around 1905. Having worked as a miner and a wagon wright in County Durham, in November 1926 he started work at Barnsley Hall Hospital in Bromsgrove. The union branch was formed there November 1927, and Waites became secretary at age the age of 22 and held the post for twenty-two and a half years. He was a national executive committee member, a full-time officer from 1948, and a member of the Birmingham Regional Hospital Board.

"There was certain treatments in the early days which upset me very much” (2:08)

Induced malaria treatment of GPI (“general paralysis of the insane” usually caused by the contraction of syphilis) resulting in body temperatures of up to 106.8 degrees Fahrenheit.


“The reactions were so severe that fractures were reported” (2:02)

Some techniques and outcomes of electric shock treatment and electro-convulsive therapy.


Listen to the whole interview: MSS.229/6/C/CO/7/18 side 1 (46:06), side 2 (46:04).

Bill Dunn, ambulanceman, interviewed in 1982

Bill Dunn was born in Liverpool on 8 March 1927. Having served in the Royal Marines and worked in the oil industry, he joined the London Ambulance Service in 1968. He later became secretary of the COHSE branch at Hanwell ambulance station in Ealing and vice-chairman and chairman of Number Six region in 1978 and 1979 respectively. He held the latter position until his death on 16 March 1983.

"Don’t you trust your nurses?”: breaking the 9.30 rule (2:38)

Dunn describes his role in overturning the ban on visitors in nurses’ accommodation after 9.30 p.m. at King Edward’s Hospital in Ealing, although he concedes the rule is still useful in dealing with anti-social behaviour.


“The power is with the workers”: a warning to the government (2:01)

The strength of commitment to the National Health Service shown by the recent industrial action by health workers and the support it enjoyed.


Listen to the whole interview: MSS.229/6/C/CO/7/9 side 1 (47:28), side 2 (47:22). Read a transcript