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No Mean City: 1914 to 1950s

Everyday Life

Health and Sickness

By Jenny Cronin

Nurses and babies By 1914 major fever epidemics in Glasgow had subsided, respiratory illness declined, and childhood diseases claimed fewer lives. Yet mortality figures for Glasgow were still 25 per cent above rural areas. After 1920 Glasgow also had the highest mortality from tuberculosis in Britain. After the First World War (1914-1918) efforts to improve health focused on replacing a lost generation and resulted in new or improved maternity hospitals, welfare centres and country homes. The War also escalated developments in therapeutic and surgical rehabilitation techniques that led to the opening of Philipshill Auxiliary Hospital (1929), attached to the Glasgow Victoria Infirmary.

Rickets Equally important to improved medical services was the development of municipal housing estates. This relieved some of the overcrowding that precipitated much ill health. But inadequate living conditions and poverty still remained for many others and the health of the people suffered. During the 1920s, rickets was common in Glasgow children until doctors established that the cause was deficiency of vitamin D and sunlight. By 1939, the incidence had fallen dramatically.

Glasgow X-ray Campaign After the Second World War access to medical services through the newly established National Health Service (NHS) benefited many Glaswegians. Reconstruction made further improvements to housing, but still did not eliminate overcrowding. Nevertheless, new drugs and technology eventually brought some diseases, particularly tuberculosis, under control. A major breakthrough in the fight for better health was the Clean Air Act of 1956. This drastically reduced the environmental pollution that still caused so much respiratory illness in Glasgow. By 1960 good health for Glaswegians, although not universal, was an achievable goal.

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