Monday, 31 May 2010

Mass Observation – Ordinary People Tell the Story of the NHS

Since my last posting, I’ve been looking more into Mass Observation and it’s fascinating – it’s like taking a peek at our yesterdays. This new Mass Observation Archive research looks at the experiences of ordinary people and their opinions of their care over the first 60 years of the National Health Service.

Despite the numerous worries, gripes and moans down the decades, the British public has always supported the founding principle of the NHS - free, universal healthcare at the point of delivery, and funded by taxation - and it still does, say research authors Linda Lamont and Fran McCabe.

The study, '60 years of the NHS: Ordinary People Tell the Story', aims to contribute to a patients' history of the NHS by highlighting how expectations have changed over the decades and people's positive and negative experiences of the health service.

The material provides colourful and sometimes touching personal accounts of people's encounters with the NHS at three points in its history: 1949, 1997 and 2008. These accounts are taken from the Mass Observation Archive, kept at the University of Sussex, which specialises in material about everyday life in Britain. Short extracts have been chosen from among hundreds of vividly written responses to illustrate themes, such as hospital care; general practice; dental services; older people, including dementia; as well as contemporary ethical issues, such as organ donation, fertility treatment and assisted dying.

'Bring back 'Matron' and the smell of carbolic soap'

'We both dread the thought of becoming cabbages. I feel strongly that my life is mine to dispose of as and when I will.'

The NHS was launched in July 1948. Prior to that, healthcare was provided by a mixture of private, municipal and charity schemes. This led to inequalities between different regions, with many people unable to afford healthcare.

In the 1949 records, the report shows - unsurprisingly - that people were grateful for the services they had not been able to afford before the NHS began. By 1997, and increasingly in 2008, people's expectations are higher and they are more prepared to be critical when their needs are not met.

Better care for elderly patients, fear of infections caught in hospital wards, changing nursing standards and dislike of mixed wards are among the concerns raised by patients in these more recent responses.

'I cannot say how strongly I believe that the care which we inflict upon our elders will become, in history, the scandal of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.’

The report was compiled by Linda Lamont and Fran McCabe, two historians and retired NHS professionals, who are running a series of seminars about their work this year.

"The Mass Observation material gives us an absorbing and vivid perspective of the NHS going back to its birth. We should not forget that despite its problems, without the NHS many people, especially those without means, would not be alive today,” says Fran McCabe, who spent 40 years working in health and social care and holds an MA on the history of the NHS through general practice from the University. 'Over many long years there has been a definite improvement in treatments, waiting lists and patients rights. But a deterioration in cleanliness, friendliness and nutrition'

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Turning pain to power – Women of DRC

When we hear/read about the Congo (DRC), it is usually terrible stories, particularly those involving women. My own blog entries are no different. But recently there is a sense that things are shifting a bit – women are taking things into their own hands and among all the pain and devastation, there are shoots of hope.

• There is City of Joy in Bukavu, a place conceived and created by women to provide women survivors of sexual violence “a place to heal emotionally as they rebuild their lives, turn their pain to power, and return back into their communities to lead.” City of Joy will provide group therapy, self-defense, theatre, HIV/AIDS and family planning, horticulture and economic empowerment to up to 180 women a year. It is a project of V-Day and UNICEF, in partnership with Panzi Foundation. To find out more, watch this short, powerful video.

• Another source of hope is the Heal My People programme at HEAL Africa, a Congolese relief organization centered in Goma. The programme was launched by Jeanne Muliri Kabekaty, known as “Mama Muliri” to her friends and colleagues, and its aim is to turn women from victims into survivors and eventually into strong women of the community and the hope of the future of Congo.

In this interview below, Mama Muliri explains what this means. (The interview was translated by HEAL’s Executive Director Judy Anderson and posted on the PeaceXPeace network. (To listen to the whole interview, click here.)

“Let me tell you about the work we are doing with women who had real pain, real sorrow. You know the stories of what had happened to women but what we were really concerned about is that they not live with the stories of their past as victims of sexual violence.

When we first started they were victims but then we said they’re no longer victims because these women that we have been working with have been cared for medically, their emotional state has improved. We started thinking: what other words can we use? We started calling them survivors. We thought: survivors, well yeah they are survivors but how long are they going to be survivors? How many years can they live as survivors? Where does that leave them? We need to give them a way to show how strong they can be and we want them to think of themselves as strong within the community. We want to also change the name.

How will that name change? They need to be strong enough to do hard work. It also has to be work that they can do well and that they can see the value of and the worth of. We work with women and then when they return home we put them with the other women in the communities so that they are all strong together. The women that come back have strength that is accepted and valued in the community and they can work together for their own futures. They can do handiwork, they can work in the gardens, they can sell small items in markets. They find a way to see themselves again as a woman, like the other women in the community.

These women also learn how to accept each other and welcome each other. The women that had a terrible experience during the war are no longer pointed out with the finger, “See that one.” The women that we have worked with, that we have helped heal are now with their other women in community. They are working together.

So we have buried the word victim. We have buried the word survivor. Now these women are called the strong women of the community. They are the hope for the future of Congo. These women have buried their pasts and they are going into the future. What we see is that if in the next two or three years we have no more wars Congo will have a whole different look. And that is why we women are standing together to say: NO MORE WAR. If somebody comes to us proposing another war for another reason we will stand together and say: No More. Enough is enough."

Friday, 7 May 2010

Keep a diary for just one day – Mass Observation on 12th May

I’d like to pass on this message for the UK Mass Observation project. It sounds fascinating and fun!

Would you keep a one-day diary for Mass Observation on Wednesday 12th May 2010?

In 1937, Mass Observation called for people from all parts of the UK to record everything they did and thought from when they woke up in the morning to when they went to sleep at night on 12th May. The resulting diaries provide a wonderful glimpse into the everyday lives of all sorts of people in the late 1930s. They are stored, with many other diaries and papers, at the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex.

As it happened 12th May 1937 was the day of George VI's Coronation and many people wrote about being involved in this national event. May 12th 2010 is likely to be quite an ordinary day but we would still like to have your diaries.

Write as much as you can about what you do, who you meet, what you talk about, what you eat and drink, what you buy or sell, what you are working on, the places you visit, the people you meet, the things you read, see and hear around you and of course what you yourself think.

Anyone from any part of the UK whatever your age or background is welcome to send us a diary but it must be in electronic form!

How to take part:

- Diaries should be no more than 750 words

- Diaries MUST be in electronic form - emails or email attachments

- You should include a brief self portrait: your age, where you live, who you live with - if anyone, your present job or occupation if you are working and any other information that you think is important to record. We need this as background to your diary

- If 12th May was a typical day for you please say so. If not, please say why it wasn't. Any reflections on the day and on how you felt while keeping the diary always welcome

- So that we can add your diary to the rest of the Archive for the future, please include the statement below at the end of your diary (not within the 750 word limit). If you don't attach this statement, we won't be able to keep your diary or make it part of the Archive.

"I donate my 12th May diary to the Mass Observation Archive. I consent to it being made publicly available as part of the Archive and to it being reproduced in full or in part on the MOA website, on other websites and in publications as approved by the Mass Observation Archive Trustees".

To submit you diary email to:

We can't thank you personally for your diary but keep an eye on for news of the project.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Book of UnCommon Prayers

A friend of mine, who works as a writer in residence in prison, has edited a moving and beautiful booklet - “The Book of UnCommon Prayer”, a collection of personal prayers and reflections by inmates at HMP Grendon (Cat B secure) and Spring Hill (Cat D open prison).

“They say that when men go into prison, they find either the gym or God,” says Jane Bidder. “When I first arrived as writer in residence of HMP Spring Hill, I was slightly bemused (and confused) to find that this was indeed true. Every morning, from 8am onwards, I would hear loud sounds of activity from inside the gym. Meanwhile, only a few feet away, was the chaplaincy…”

She asked her students to write an individual, personal prayer, and if they didn’t have a religion, it could be a private reflection.

To her surprise, lots of men wanted to contribute. Their voices are extremely varied – some are simple, others formal and a bit predictable, and others fresh and moving. Staff at both prisons contributed too. The book counts about 70 prayers and their authors describe themselves as Muslims, Catholics and Christians, as well as one Jew, Hindu, Church of England, Church of Scotland, Rastafarian, Buddhist, Lutheran, Quaker, Seventh Day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witness – some practicing, others lapsing and others without religion - a fascinating array of religions and beliefs all in one place!

Here are extracts from a few prayers:

“Because of my past life as a thief.

I feel kinda numb; I’d like time to fly.

I want peace of mind; I want to know why.

I pray that my tariff will come to an end

And I can go home to family and friends.”

Paul, brought up as a Catholic

“When trouble wells within and my soul

screams for release,

I walk alongside the still waters of his peace.”

Noel, a Seventh Day Adventist

The book (ISBN 978-1-905373-29-1) is published by BAR NONE Books, the publishing arm of the Writers in Prison Network, a charity founded in 1992 to bring writers in residence at various prisons across the country. They believe that “prison does not have to be simply a place to deposit criminals. It can also be a foundation for prisoners' future lives and the writers show how exploration of the written and spoken word can provide a gateway to change.”