Feb 11 2012: Fifty-Four Photographic Plates from Surgery for Nurses by James Kemble (1949)

Following yesterday’s gallery of diagrams, radiographs and anatomical illustrations from James Kemble’s 1949 textbook, Surgery for Nurses, today presents a somewhat larger gallery of photographic plates from the same publication, mainly taken by Kemble himself, showing his own patients and hospital subjects. What’s especially powerful about these (despite the fact that I’ve omitted most of the more traumatic and graphic images, they’re still probably not for the squeamish) is that they support evidence from the early years of the NHS that many of the patients visiting surgeries between 1945 and 1950 were coming to doctors with the kinds of long-untreated conditions often seen here: syphilis, cysts, prolapses, fractures, facial paralysis, gall stones, osteo-arthritis, rheumatism, and so on. The fact that it is these conditions that clearly dominate the textbooks of 1949, only a few years after the foundation of the NHS, and that such conditions would not appear in such prominence in any current equivalent of Kemble’s book, tells its own story about what the NHS achieved and why it remains necessary to keep a high firewall between profit motives and healthcare. It’s worth bearing this in mind as moves to reintroduce profit motives into the NHS press ahead even as I write, since the reason for the prevalence of these kinds of ailments had been the inability to afford (or fear of the potential costs) of treatment among those suffering the illnesses. Even where charitable options had been available prior to the founding of the NHS, many had been deterred by the stigmas attached to using such services (and let’s not pretend stigmas will not apply to any future ‘two tier’ proposals as their absence would otherwise too-readily impact on the potential profits to be made from patients who might, without them, be persuaded to use these in preference to paid treatments). These faces, then, hard as they might be look at, represent the people in whose names the NHS was founded. It’s to be hoped that they might now find their way into the consciences of those currently working to undermine those founding NHS principles, and stay there, in case their descendants find themselves looking out from similar plates, nursing long untreated conditions, at some point in our near future.


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