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

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City of London 1971

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for London, City of ]

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Compared with the previous year the degree of infestation has shown a slight reduction, as will be seen from the following table:-

Beds InspectedVerminousAverage Infestation RateTotal No. Cleansed
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Undoubtedly, a more efficient inspection system, coupled with greater experience of the
problem, has achieved this improvement, which has been appreciated by both the Salvation
Army and the lodgers. Serious breakdowns in laundry services contributed to higher infestation
rates during part of the year.
Although the accommodation is very basic the occupants vary in their habits of personal
cleanliness. Transmission of vermin from bed to bed in the larger dormitories often occurs.
Using the model bye-laws as a standard, some rooms are overcrowded. It cannot be doubted
that the close proximity of beds is a significant factor which facilitates the spread of lice from
bed to bed. One room occupied by lodgers who also carry out the more menial tasks on the premises
has 16 occupants instead of the 12 which would be permitted if the model bye-laws standard
were applied. A reduction in the number of occupants of this particular room has been
promised as soon as suitable beds become available. The overcrowding has also been aggravated
by the demands of the fire authorities, who have required longer gangways and additional fire
doors. The only standard for common lodging houses is contained in the model bye-laws, which
requires 40 sq. ft. per person or 400 cu. ft. where the ceiling height is below eight feet. Lice
infestation will continue so long as the present numerical standard of occupation is permitted.
Criticism has been made of the laundry facilities during the year under review, but at the
time of writing these facilities have been considerably improved. After various representations
made by the Public Health Inspector, a regular weekly change of sheets has been put into
operation. The model bye-laws also require that beds should be exposed to the air. The stench
from this source is at times appalling. In practice the beds are made up as soon as possible and
so during the winter months bed-making continues in poor light, which results in vermin being
overlooked, it would be foolhardy to suggest that only the Public Health Inspector should carry
out an inspection of beds. It is highly desirable that he be assisted by the day-to-day vigilance
of the bed-makers and other members of the Salvation Army staff. Inspection during the winter
months is more arduous, since a hand-held torch is required to scan the beds. Since the artificial
lighting is kept on all night it is of a very poor standard and some form of dimming device would
certainly assist in the management of this type of accommodation.
This common lodging house sinks into an abysmal state of uncleanliness during the nighttime,
although the subsequent daily efforts made to keep these premises clean do not fall short
of what is required. As in so many facets of community life in England to-day, a sense of corporate
moral responsibility has been lost and many lodgers have no consideration at all for their
neighbours. More personal attention to clean habits and a greater sense of corporate living would
substantially improve this common lodging house. The immediate objective will continue to be
the reduction of the level of verminous infestation and the encouragement of better personal and
corporate hygiene. Where a personal approach has been made, as distinct from a letter sent from
this Department, men who have initially refused to attend the cleansing station have responded.
In the past, cleansing stations have come to be associated with a degree of unpleasantness,
but when men have once used the facilities in Moor Lane they do not now hesitate to return.
The work connected with the inspection and supervision of this common lodging house is timeconsuming,
but in terms of community benefit it is undoubtedly worth while in an effort to prevent
lice from being a possible nuisance at places of work or in public transport.
This Act was passed in 1963 to provide protection for people employed in shops and offices
and thus to take the same interest in their welfare as factory workers had enjoyed for many years
through the Factory Acts. First of all, such premises where people were employed had to be
registered with the authority responsible for enforcing the Act. An abstract of the Act, costing
only a few pence, was published for employers to put in a prominent position so that employees
could be made aware of their rights.

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