The Health and Social Consequences of the 2001 Foot and Mouth Epidemic in North Cumbria
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Audio: Community Issues

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We all worked long irregular hours and the pace took its toll on different people in different ways. Some were drinking every night, others retreated into themselves, and found it difficult to talk. People’s social lives changed. Brian my fiancé couldn’t go home to see his parents as they lived in a farm and he could not see any of his farming friends. He had not been home since foot and mouth hit and as he was living with me he was dirty by default. I was scared to go north to see my family and friends in case I took it with me. I had to phone my mother to tell her about the engagement. It was also difficult to keep in touch with people because unless they were involved in foot and mouth they had no idea what was going on and you were doing nothing else. It was difficult trying to explain what you were doing each day and how you were feeling. I stopped phoning my friends and family because there was nothing to talk about.


For everyone there was the effort needed to blank out the awful sights, sounds and smells of the slaughter, the pyres and the empty fields. During all this, there was the normal tensions that affect any community, of illness, shortage of money, death of family and friends. But foot and mouth made its impact here also. Internal and family debates were held as to the safety of attending the doctor or a friend’s funeral. Some families chose to bury their dead quietly to spare other people being forced to take any extra risk. Everyone was affected who lived or worked in the area. Their livelihoods were affected, their family life was affected, financially they were affected and they had seen and heard things they would rather have not.

We have already heard from Lynne and others [respondents who also gave testimonies at the conference], how everyone turned for support and counselling to other people. However I’m sure that if an audit of the medical and nursing registers were undertaken for that period, there would be little evidence of any increased formal counselling. This wasn’t because it didn’t happen but because it became the norm. Wound dressing visits that normal took 15 minutes stretched to over an hour as patients sought to off load their concerns for themselves, or more commonly, their loved ones, who were so stressed that they were rapidly losing weight or not sleeping or in tears or not talking or so angry or turning to drink or who were concerned about worsening their already existing aliments. No visit to a house during that period was simple. Emotions were near the surface and every day brought fresh news and concerns. The burdens got heavier and heavier and this picture was repeated among the GPs and the practice nurses too.

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