Pictured with conference organiser Professor Barry Doyle (far right) are speakers (l-r) Dr Rob Ellis, Dr Alice Brumby and Frank Grombir. Pictured with conference organiser Professor Barry Doyle (far right) are speakers (l-r) Dr Rob Ellis, Dr Alice Brumby and Frank Grombir

The network is headed by Huddersfield’s Professor Barry Doyle and it held its latest conference in Prague

A GLOBAL network of scholars headed by a University of Huddersfield professor is investigating how countries provided healthcare and hospitals before post-WWII innovations such as Britain’s NHS.  Central Europe is a key area of research, and the network’s latest conference has taken place in Prague.

Professor Barry Doyle is Director of the Centre for Health Histories at the University of Huddersfield, which has provided funding for a project titled European Healthcare before Welfare States.  Goals include the development of a network of UK, European and North American scholars, plus research into the healthcare systems of Poland, Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia.

This has been a neglected topic, said Professor Doyle.  “I couldn’t find anything in English about these countries and we discovered that there has not been much research in these areas.”

Members of the network – including Czech-speaking PhD student Frank Grombir of the University of Huddersfield – paid visits to the three countries and have established what archives and sources are available for further research.  Among the initial findings are that the Catholic Church was still heavily involved in healthcare before WWII and ethnic differences were also a factor.

The European Healthcare before Welfare States network held its inaugural international workshop at the University of Huddersfield in 2017.  Now, the second has taken place over two days at Charles University in Prague.

The keynote speakers were George Weisz of McGill University in Canada, on Making Sense of Healthcare before Welfare States, and Michael Warboys of the University of Manchester, whose paper titled The Non-Patient’s View considered the wider experience of illness and its relevance to the pressures placed on today’s surgeries and hospitals.

Over two days, there were papers from 26 scholars based at UK universities and in countries including Germany, Spain, Hungary, Canada, Sweden, Australia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland and the USA.  A book is now planned containing articles based on the conference proceedings.

University of Huddersfield contributors were Dr Rob Ellis, on London County Council and the Politics of Mental Health Care at the end of the Nineteenth and beginning of the Twentieth Centuries; Dr Alice Brumby on the Mental Treatment Act 1930-1938; and Frank Grombir on hospital provision in Czechoslovakia’s easternmost province, 1918-1938.

Other papers at the event probed numerous aspects of health provision in countries around the world and the network’s plans include a workshop, to be held in Glasgow, dealing with health provision in colonial countries prior to 1950.

Professor Doyle’s goal is to complete Europe-wide research on healthcare in the first half of the 20th century and he explained that he has been motivated by what he alleges is the insular view that the British often take of their system.

But his researches have also discovered that pre-NHS healthcare in Britain was often of high standard and other countries regarded it as a model provision.

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