London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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Tower Hamlets 1970

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Tower Hamlets, London Borough]

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I have a private office with a telephone line which does not pass through
the main hospital switchboard. This I find invaluable. Many patients ask their
contacts to telephone me to discuss the problem, thus providing them with a
persona] link and smoothing the way to the first visit. I am able to mitigate
unnecessary fears and to coax frightened girls to meet me outside the hospital
or at the nearest tube station.
I have brought young girls who have been literally terrified of being
examined The doctors and nurses have patiently and skilfully allayed their
fears I particularly remember asixteen year old girl who was acontact of early
syphilis and gonorrhoea. It took a very long time to persuade her to submit to
examination She eventually did and was found to have secondary syphilis and
gonorrhoea Moreover, she was a very promiscuous girl.
When adequate descriptions were obtained of contacts in other parts of the
country, I sent them either to the Medical Officers of Health concerned or direct
to the clinics in the area When contacts were abroad, to the Ministry of Health
in London.
The tracing of contacts presented many difficulties. In some cases I was
given a false address, or contacts had just moved or been turned out by irate
landladies. Many times the women concerned had been admitted to hospital with
severe pains in the abdomen, presumably due to salpingitis. I often had to make
several visits before finding the contact at home and even when she was finally
traced, the inte rvi ew was not easy as it was essential to speak to the worn an alone.
Naturally enough many contacts asked the inevitable quest ion of "who gave my
name?" Some said they were clean one even showing me a gleaming electric kettle
and oven to prove it. Some disliked hospitals, doctors and particularly "needles".
There were those who resented, not unnaturally, the suggestion from a complete
stranger that they should attend a clinic for tests There were those who
threatened to sue me and those who asserted that they were virgins. One
elderly woman assured me I had obviously been given the wrong information because
she was a Christian.
Prostitutes were difficult to trace because they used so many different
names and could change their appearances quickly and easily. Their addresses
changed as quickly as their names and coiffures. They would also change their
professional areas for a few weeks and then return again. The situation was not
conducive to detection, Many girls, not al1 of whom were prostitutes, drift from
large town to town by being pickedupby lorry drivers. These easy pick up girls
stay with one man for a few days and then drift off with someone else. Such
ephemeral relationships make the work very much more difficult. A girl may be
named as a contact by several men after she has already moved elsewhere.
During my first year there was a large number of male Pakistani patients
with early infectious syphilis. These immigrants are notparticularly promiscuous