Admissions - Social Background of Children

Tuberculosis has long been a disease associated with poverty and poor living conditions and details given in each patient's case file of their social background often illustrates this. Some of the common risk factors for contracting tuberculosis include overcrowding, malnourishment, a weakened immune system, being either very young or very old and a lack of access to medical care to ensure treatment and prevention.

For many children coming from backgrounds such as this, being removed to the sanatorium, whilst it may have been difficult being separated from family at such a young age, may in fact have been a blessing in disguise. Even without the effective drug treatments we have today, the instant improvement in living conditions would have made untold differences to their health and wellbeing. In each child's case file it is quite common to see descriptions of their living conditions as part of their general and family history, taking into account the type of house they were living in, the number of occupants, and the sanitation available. This information alongside correspondence from the children's parents requesting support for applications for improved housing gives us a great insight into some of the social conditions across the North East during this period.

One particular patient, 145/1946, perfectly illustrates the challenging conditions and the effect of childhood diseases. This girl was admitted to Stannington Sanatorium in October 1945 aged 3. Her case notes indicate that she had already had measles and pneumonia and had been suffering from tuberculosis of the right knee for the past 18 months. After 4 years of treatment she was considered fit for discharge at which point the living conditions she had left behind at the age of 3 are made clear. The local medical officer reports that

"The home conditions in this case are appalling. The housing accommodation is only two rooms, in which are already living four adults and five children."

With this borne in mind the medical staff, unsurprisingly, consider it counterproductive to discharge the girl home and within 3 months she is instead discharged to the Briarmede Nursery in Gateshead.


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