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Historical talk looks back at "white death"

23 Aug 2018

An RCN event taking place in Bury St Edmunds next month will look back at the devastation caused by the scourge of tuberculosis (TB).

Known as the “white death”, having TB often meant patients spending weeks, months and even years in institutions – such as the East Anglian Sanatorium in Nayland, Suffolk – undergoing the “rest cure”.

TB affected everyone in the UK, including in West Suffolk. In 1906, 10% of deaths in Bury St Edmunds were linked to TB. The profits from the 1907 Bury St Edmunds Historical Pageant – the equivalent of around £100,000 today – were spent on opening the Bury St Edmunds and West Suffolk Sanatorium in 1909.

Writer Helen Bynum, author of Spitting Blood: The History of Tuberculosis, will discuss the impact of TB on patients, the public and nursing staff during the talk at the Royal College of Nursing’s regional office in Bury St Edmunds on 6 September.

The free event is open to the public to come along and learn more about the subject and explore some of the lesser known facts about life at this difficult time in our past.

Speaking ahead of the event, Helen said: “Tuberculosis is a terrible disease. It was greatly feared and those who were sick with it were avoided and stigmatised.

“It remains in the top 10 causes of death around the world, killing 1.7 million in 2016.”

Helen said that before the arrival of successful TB drug therapies in the 1950s, nursing played a major part in TB care. “The rest cure of the sanatoria demanded that patients do nothing for themselves,” she said.

“Rest meant rest and everything else fell to the lot of the nurse, who had to attend to the patient’s needs on a constant basis. The sanatorium became the patient’s entire world."

Anyone who would like to attend this free event, organised by the Royal College of Nursing’s Library Service, can book a place and find out more by visiting the event page or calling 0345 337 3368.

Page last updated - 30/08/2018