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As TB cases reach a new high Benenden Healthcare takes a look back at its origins

17th November 2010

The news that cases of Tuberculosis (TB) have reached their highest level for 30 years* may not indicate a return to the level of cases seen at the turn of the last century, but it certainly gives food for thought on the Society’s own relationship to TB.

Treatment for TB is the Society’s only contractual (non-discretionary) service.  This means that, while all services may vary according to the Society resources available, TB treatment will always have first call on those resources.

The Society’s long-standing relationship with TB treatment began when a Post Office Worker, Charles Garland, led the foundation of the Society in 1905. The Society was first known as ‘The Post Office Branch of The National Association for the Establishment and Maintenance of Sanatoria for Workers Suffering from Tuberculosis Friendly Society’ – quite a mouthful!

TB is a highly infectious disease and its spread amongst Post Office workers was not easily contained due to postal sacks being dragged along dirty railway station platforms and into damp, dusty sorting offices.

Dismayed by the high number of TB cases amongst fellow sorting clerks, Charles Garland believed passionately that his co-workers should all have access to TB treatment, which was generally expensive and thus inaccessible to low paid workers at the time.

His mutual model, still in use today, advocated the contribution by all members of a small subscription fee into one pot that members could draw from if they needed TB treatment. The Society has since evolved over 100 years, providing an ever-widening range of services and adopting several name changes to reach its current form of The Benenden Healthcare Society.

Around the same as the Society was founded, work began on a new specialist sanatorium for TB patients on a 250 acre site of land near a small village called Benenden, in Kent. Chosen for its location – right out in the open countryside, ideal for TB patients, for whom it was thought fresh, clean air and bed rest were key to recovery – this sanatorium has since evolved into the modern Benenden Hospital, still a subsidiary of the Society and widely known for its high standards of patient-focused care.

You can find out more about the history of the Society and its relationship to TB on our YouTube page. In a short film, Benenden Hospital’s museum curator, Mervyn Quinlan, talks about the early years of the Society.

* Source: Health Protection Agency

 

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