Few lives can have been more intimately linked to the NHS than that of Jean Jones.
Jean was just 20 months old when the NHS officially came into being at Park Hospital in Urmston in 1948 and she was receiving treatment for a rare condition just a few miles away at The Christie.
Astonishingly, 70 years later, Jean is still a patient at The Christie and visits the Withington site for periodic reviews. And she lives just a stone’s throw from Trafford General, as Park Hospital was renamed, where she spent 25 years as a nurse.
Jean, 71yrs old, readily admits her life has been inextricably bound up with the health service. Not only has the NHS treated her and sustained her career, but her husband of 48 years, David, was successfully treated at The Christie after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013.
“I’ve always been extremely grateful to the NHS and The Christie has been wonderful to me. I’ve nothing but praise for them. I’ve grown up with The Christie and seen it change and expand over the years, but the one thing that has always remained the same is the warmth and care that the staff show to all the patients - that has never changed.
“Before the NHS came along you had to pay for everything. I’ve had a lot of treatment over the years, and the medication isn’t cheap – I don’t know if I would have been able to afford it.”
Jean was born in Crewe where her father worked in a munitions factory but the family moved to Flixton at the end of the war to follow her father’s work. She started treatment at The Christie when she was she was 20 months old because, as she puts it, she ‘wasn’t thriving’.
She was diagnosed with histiocytosis, a rare disorder more common in young children, in which certain types of cells, known as Langerhans immune cells, infiltrate the bones, lungs and skin. Their symptoms vary considerably from one patient to another. In Jean’s case the condition affected her kidneys, scarred her lungs and damaged her pituitary gland. She is on pituitary hormones for life.
While she doesn’t experience any pain, Jean has to control her condition with medication and still pays regular visits to The Christie where she is under the care of consultant clinical oncologist Dr Rao Gattamaneni. “I still go to clinic every couple of years to see if there’s anything concerning me and just to say hello,” she says.
Jean’s earliest recollections of her visits to The Christie are inevitably rather hazy due to her young age, but she does recall that she visited once a month for a number of years for a range of treatments, including radiotherapy.
She was treated by Dr Edith Paterson who was part of the pioneering team that helped establish The Christie’s international renown. Dr Paterson was married to Professor Ralston Paterson who, in the middle years of the 20th century, became the world’s foremost authority on the radiation treatment of cancer. Dr Edith Paterson was a pioneer in a number of areas, including childhood cancers.
Jean says: “I remember going with my mother and getting off the bus at the junction of Wilmslow Road and Mauldeth Road and walking to the hospital. The children’s ward was upstairs and I remember they put me in a cot one time – I was a bit indignant about that because I had a bed at home and I thought I was too old for a cot.
“My mum used to bring her ration book and give the sugar coupons to the ladies who made the tea so they could buy sweets for the children.
“I remember there was an isolation room in the ward and there was a girl called Kathleen in there. I had an idea she’d had her lung removed. We became friends and people said that if it hadn’t been for me she wouldn’t have got better.
“There was a photo in my case notes of me and Kathleen showing us standing back to back to show how short I was.”
Jean added: “All the nurses were very nice – the sister in particular – and we were allowed to go down the corridor to the women’s ward every now and again because we knew we could get sweets from them! But they loved to see us too.”
Jean worked as a hairdresser for three years after leaving Flixton secondary modern school, but then felt she wanted to move on and decided to retrain as a nurse, a career she pursued for the next 38 years.
She began work at the then Park Hospital in 1973 and specialised mainly as a surgical nurse in orthopaedics: “It was always extremely busy, which I enjoyed.” Jean also worked at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and at Barnes Hospital in Cheadle, the former Manchester convalescent home, which has since closed.
She met her husband at a party in Eccles and they were married in 1970. David, a retired bookkeeper, was diagnosed with an early-stage form of prostate cancer and was treated at The Christie with brachytherapy, a type of radiotherapy in which tiny radioactive seeds are placed in the prostate. David’s sister Wendy died of breast cancer, aged just 42.
“I’ve had nothing but excellent treatment from the health service and I’ve nothing but praise for all those people who have treated me,” he says.
Jean singles out other local NHS services for praise, including Manchester Royal Infirmary, where she is under the care of the endocrinology team and where she was treated for an ear condition, and Trafford General Hospital itself, where she had an operation on her ears and had her appendix removed. She also has warm words for family GP Dr Lovereet Gill of Flixton Road medical centre.
“I do have to take medication every day, but I’ve been lucky because it’s obviously worked for me. I have every reason to be grateful to the NHS.”