AbstractsMedical & Health Science

Medical care in the workhouses in Birmingham and Wolverhampton, 1834-1914

by Alistair Edward Ritch

Institution: University of Birmingham
Department: School of Health and Population Sciences, History of Medicine Unit
Year: 2015
Keywords: DA Great Britain; RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Record ID: 1406063
Full text PDF: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/5910/


This study of the medical role of the urban workhouses of Birmingham and Wolverhampton after the New Poor Law addresses the following questions: what were the standards of medical and nursing practice and what treatments were used to alleviate inmates’ suffering? It considers the nature of illnesses encountered covering acute non-infective illnesses, infectious disease and chronic disability, and highlights the important role the workhouse played in providing institutional care, especially in the isolation of epidemic diseases. Birmingham workhouse had a well-developed medical service prior to the New Poor Law and this continued until the mid-nineteenth century. By comparison, Wolverhampton workhouse did not meet satisfactory levels of medical and nurse staffing until near the end of the century. The study provides a new perspective on medical care in workhouse infirmaries by showing how standards varied over time within the same institution and how medicalisation of the workhouse began in the early years after the New Poor Law. Medical care in workhouses has been viewed as important only in the context of the development of the National Health Service but this study demonstrates that it provided significant, and at times high quality, medical treatment for the poor.