Film ID:
YFA 5852



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This is a Yorkshire Television documentary, part of the Northern Line Series, on the Laundry at Halifax General Hospital which is under threat of closure due to privatisation of the Health Service. The programme focuses on interviewing four of the women who work in the laundry, who talk about the importance of what they do, their working conditions and pay, their pride in their job, but their anger at the Government for privatisation.

The film begins showing women working at large machinery in the laundry at Halifax General Hospital.  Several women working there are interviewed, talking about the nature of the work and the job they do.  It is stated that the laundry has been in operation for over 100 years.  As we see the laundry from a distance, it is stated that it is under threat of closure because of privatisation.  The laundry supplies three local hospitals, and those interviewed underline the importance of the work they do and how hard it is.  The women who work there are seen having tea in the canteen.  One of the women sorts out the laundry when it arrives, and we see her and two others sorting it out into separate types.  She talks about the different kinds of items that come in, sometimes with blood and other types of stains that are quite foul.  At first, she states, it made her feel sick, but now she is used to it.  But despite the hard physical work involved and the poor pay, she enjoys the job. 

Newly washed sheets are shown being passed through a large pressing machine.  There is an interview with the supervisor who explains the many different kinds of items they have to clean, including staff uniforms.  She says she feels proud of the work that she does because it is helping those who are ill.  Another worker operating a steam press explains the nature of the hard physical work involved, but that she too takes pride in her work, and we see film of patients on a ward.  A fourth worker is interviewed, who also talks about the difficult working conditions, but, like the rest, works there because of the need for money.  As the workers queue to receive their pay cheques, the commentary states that they are the second lowest paid workers for the NHS, averaging £1.75 pence an hour.  The women who have been interviewed gather together outside and complain that the pay is worse than what it was several years ago.  

It is stated that in 1981 Calderdale District Authority decided to demolish the laundry at Halifax General Hospital, and they submitted plans to the Government for the building of a new one.  The plans were rejected, and they were told by the Government that they had to put the laundry service out to tender to private firms.  Norman Fowler, the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, speaks to the camera stating that only if a tender from a private company costs less, and is of the same standard, would it be accepted, and that any money saved would go to patient care.  They received several tenders, including from Leeds and Newcastle, but the one from the in-house laundry, the only tender submitted by anyone in Halifax, worked out £18,000 less than any other.  Nevertheless, this was rejected by the government on the grounds that this amount was in the margin of error for such tenders.  Again tenders were put out, and it is stated that the in-house tender would have resulted in a saving of £250,000.  This was backed by the local health authorities, but in August 1983 the government again said no to this. This sparked a campaign to retain the existing service.  But three months later the government made its final decision that the laundry was to go private.  [The part where the government position is put has just blank film – 2/3rds in].

The laundry workers interviewed state that they cannot understand this, that their expertise would be difficult to replicate in the short term, and that the privatised companies might put up their prices once they have got the contract.  They also feared that they might not get other work at their age.  It is stated that the laundry is due to close in 1987, but that it might not last that long for the 25 workers there as no work is being put into repairing the old machinery, and there are no plans to replace it with new.  Two of the women clamber onto a machine to pull sheets through after it has malfunctioned. The women talk of their anger and feelings of insecurity.

The women are shown clocking out at the end of the day, and several of them are shown at home.  One woman is doing her laundry at home.  The supervisor arrives home where her disabled husband is cooking, and to her three grandchildren which she looks after five days a week.  Another walks home with her shopping to her mother who she has to care for.  She states that she never sees her wages as it goes straight into the bank and then to pay the bills.  Another woman does the ironing at home and then sits with her husband to watch Thatcher on television giving a speech to the Conservative Party Conference.  The last woman to be interviewed before the end states that “the public is oblivious to what is going on in the NHS.”

Yorkshire Television
Northern Line (Series 1)
Director - Marilyn Gaunt 
Producer - Judith Weymont 
Narrator - Helen Magee.