Every fortnight the Medical Officer of Health prepared a report on the health of the borough. This included summaries of births and deaths, causes of death and dealing with insanitary conditions across the borough. It also gives a good idea of what concerns there were about the public health of the borough and sometimes an insight into the conditions people lived and worked in.
In the two weeks covered by the report, 264 houses had to be disinfected by the Council, with a further 52 having their drains flushed with disinfectants following infectious disease and 93 having disinfectant supplied. 78 cases of infectious disease were reported and 1815 items were disinfected. This may seem somewhat over the top, but this was before antibiotics and vaccines so many infectious diseases were fatal. 21 people died of measles in this period, all were under the age of 15 – and only 2 were over 5. The report made to the Council includes an instruction from the Board of Education that children under 5 should be excluded from public elementary school and that if children had siblings under 5 then they should be excluded from classes infected with measles. In order to try and combat the heavy mortality associated with measles, the Council was to seek permission from the Local Government Board to employ an additional female sanitary inspector and health visitor.
Anyone suffering from particular infectious diseases had to notify the Council, presumably so that disinfection could take place. Scarlet fever was the most common notifiable disease with 24 notifications, followed by chicken pox, both mainly in children and all over the borough. The statistics given also include “Infectious Diseases Contacts at the Reception Shelter” (14 for the fortnight), which presumably was how the Medical Officers team were notified.
Library bye-laws stated that anyone who had a library book and came into contact with infectious disease had to notify the library. This meant that in the May 1916 accounts, there as a charge of £3 and 4s for books destroyed after cases of infectious disease – charged to the Health Committee. The Health Committee also spent 17s on disinfectant from Sanitas Co Ltd and £96 14s and 5d on disinfectant from Newton, Chambers & Co.
Medical Officers of Health annual reports for across London are available via the Wellcome Library – the Heritage Service has the reports for Wandsworth and Battersea but as neither produced annual reports during the war years, these can only be traced through the Council minutes. They are a fantastic resource for information about life in the borough and challenges faced by those who lived here.