Children’s ward, 1974.

A nurse has told us what to do. Important. Nurses are grown-ups and important. They have a uniform. You do what they say. All of us, boys and girls, all ages, we have to do what they say. I am 7 and here to have my tonsils out. This hospital is special. It was where I was born. I have never been away from my parents or my grandparents or my cat. On the bedside table is a Blue Peter Annual and a Lucie Attwell prayer book, it has pop-up pictures. The books remind me of home. I don’t much like the older boys. They like to watch Planet of the Apes on the telly at the end of the ward. That’s scary we don’t watch that at home. I asked for the Wombles on the Hospital Radio. They haven’t played it yet.

The nurse says that we all need to go to the toilet in potties by the side of the bed. All of us are doing it. At the same time. Horrible, I am 7. Babies use potties. I don’t want the older boys to see me. I Shuffle close to the bed so no-one will see me do it. But the other end of the ward can see me do it. They can see under the bed. You have to do it because it is the hospital. But no-one at school makes you go to the toilet in front of other people. Everything’s different in hospital.

As you can probably tell my first spell in hospital is almost as vivid to me today as it was 43 years ago. A minor incident? Inadvertently or intentionally abusive? Obviously it would be unacceptable now. What possible excuse can there have been for a urine sample to have been required from us all at the same time in view of each other and staff?

As anyone who has ever been in hospital knows, privacy is not always the first consideration. You can hear conversations and bodily functions in the next bed but at least the curtains are drawn round. Not the case when I was seven. Looking back I never spoke to anyone about what happened because I thought I might be told off for saying anything and I was not even sure that I was right to feel bad about it. The world was not child centred in those days. A child’s right to privacy could easily be waived by a brusque adult needing to get things done in a hurry. It was the 1970s. I had absorbed the belief that children are not important. I had also absorbed the belief that to “tell a fib” was no different from being assumed by an adult to have “told a fib”.

This very weekend I had a run-in with someone who told me point blank that he did not believe something I said about a mutual political colleague’s behaviour ten years ago. At the grand old age of 50 living in what I thought was the 21st century it hurt not to be believed. It would be nice to return to that little girl in hospital and tell her to always speak up. Speak up and you will be believed. But perhaps my seven year-old self had a firmer grip on life’s realities when she chose to say nothing.

* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Feb '17 - 2:43pm


    You in many ways show the importance of greater human understanding and individuality in politics and life itself.

    The lack of privacy you describe is common in many ways. Not in the context you describe here but it is present.

    We demonise and eulogise too much on public services.

    There are good and bad people and professionals in all walks of life.

    The hideousness of Jimmy Saville revealed complacency and complicity in the public sector at the BBC and in the NHS.

    People are people . Which is why we must first see them as individuals .

    We who are of the same age group or generation have seen some changes for the better now. But not enough .

    Believe in yourself first and in your loved ones next. If there is more that can flow from that we are getting somewhere!

  • Ruth Bright 16th Feb '17 - 7:46am

    Thanks Lorenzo. Believing women has not really been the party’s strong point during my first thirty-one years of membership. Perhaps, post Morrissey Report and post the influx of new party members the climate will be different for the next thirty-one!

  • I remember the nurse feeding me some Faley’s cereal in the children’s ward of the isolation hospital.

  • Farley, I left out the r.

  • Ruth Bright 17th Feb '17 - 9:10am

    Ah, “isolation” hospital now there’s an old fashioned term. I was trying to explain to my daughter yesterday just how long people used to be in hospital those days for what would be quite straight forward things now. It is amazing how quickly one can become institutionalised and therefore vulnerable.

  • At one time scarlet fever was a killer and kids were put in an isolation hospital. It is still a notifiable disease but it seems to have become milder in its form. I didn’t become very institutionalised, I remember my mother coming and taking me home.
    I wouldn’t want to stay in hospital long today with all the bugs people catch there, give me the disinfectant smell of the hospitals of yesteryear.

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