* 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Living in 1901
Health care in 1901Hygiene and DiseaseOld Age and the Workhouse  

Heath care in 1901

Health care - and paying for it
In 1901, there was no National Health Service providing health care for all. Nevertheless, free health care was available for some at teaching hospitals - particularly in London, which had the largest number - and at workhouse infirmaries. On the night of the 1901 census, there were 1,460 hospitals (nearly 450 more than in 1891) with 39,184 in-patients. The provision of health care for most of its citizens was not seen, however, as a function of the state.

Surgery in 1901 - link to an enlarged version

Doctors and dentists treated private patients - who were not all well-to-do - for a fee. Evidence given to a Royal Commission on the Poor Laws, published in 1909, claimed that some of 'the poorest working class' paid as private patients. A surgery consultation generally cost between 2s and 2s 6d at the bottom end of the scale. There was also the 'sixpenny doctor' (as described in So Long Ago, Joseph Stamper's autobiography set in St. Helens, Merseyside) who charged 6d for a visit, 6d for a surgery consultation and 6d for a bottle of medicine that he dispensed himself.

David Green's study, Working-Class Patients and the Medical Establishment, concludes, perhaps surprisingly, that at this period 'some kind of medical care was available to everyone, even if it was only the Poor Law. No one at all went without, unless by choice.' Medical insurance, based on regular payments, was very popular among those on lower incomes, although not everyone would have been able to afford it. In 1901, there were 7,090 registered friendly societies with a total of 2,807,823 members, together with perhaps about the same number again in unregistered societies, as well as 86 medical societies with 298,691 members.

Patent medicines
Over-the-counter remedies were very popular in 1901. These often contained laudanum, based on opium. According to Robert Roberts in A Ragged Schooling,

Dental charges - link to an enlarged version

In a society where few could afford the services of a doctor - indeed, the mere visit to one conferred a certain status on a family - patent medicines and their efficiency were a standard topic for discussion. People swore by this and that, often drugging themselves into a stupor…The taking of opiate drugs was far more widespread than it is today, and the problem in fact more serious, but very few people realised it.

In the past, working people had depended more on traditional herbal and folk cures than on professional medical advice. In the 19th century, such cures had been increasingly overtaken by branded patent medicines, promoted by aggressive marketing campaigns and sold over the counter through some 40,000 outlets by 1905.