A Welling nurse who began working in 1949 has described how a life of poverty was one of the main reasons why patients needed treatment.

Iris Heard, 86, spent "well over 40 years" working for the health service, beginning her career as a staff nurse before going on to specialise in treating those with learning disabilities.

Mrs Heard said she trained on the job at Miller General Hospital in Greenwich, which has since closed down.

She said: "There were no pre-packed items, everything had to be sterilised. Even Latex gloves had to be boiled and dried out. Syringes, everything, we had to make our own swabs. Nothing was easy.

"It was a poor area. We talk about poverty today but I think people really were poor and we used to get people in that quite often weren't very clean.

"People didn't have baths in those days in their homes. We used to get children with chest infections and tiny babies, and children with runny ears. There weren't the antibiotics then.

"Children often had ear infections and chest infections because of living in poor housing. Lots of men had chest complaints, a lot of gastric ulcers."

Mrs Heard, a widow who met her husband through his work in the pathological laboratory at the hospital, said her training was "very intensive".

"There was a lot to learn, although the technology wasn't the same as it is today," she added.

She said the doctors were pleasant to her, but "some of the senior sisters were very, very strict and unbending".

Mrs Heard, who said she was "paid a pittance", went on to work as a night sister at Goldie Leigh Hospital in Abbey Wood, which has also since closed down.

The NHS, which celebrated its 70th birthday this week on July 5, was founded in 1948 - a year before Mrs Heard began working for it.

She said she had been inspired to join the profession by her mother, who was not a qualified nurse but helped the Army sisters in the maternity unit of the military families hospital at Woolwich Barracks during the early 1920s.

Mrs Heard, who has a 60-year-old son, said she enjoys good health so does not have to use the NHS much herself.

She added: "I think it's a wonderful thing because I can remember, when I was young, people had to pay to see a doctor. There weren't many free hospitals."

She said of the NHS in the future: "I do think that it probably needs some reform.

"I think that the cost is astronomical and it may be there will have to come a point where people are charged for some services."