When I started nursing, on January 6th 1958, the hospital world was quite different from todays hospitals.

The hospital was run by THE MATRON and the senior consultant doctors. Bureaucrats were very much in the background and just dealt with the business side of the hospital. We were never aware of a CEO or any other highly paid bureaucrat having any say in how the hospital was run and the only targets were set by the nursing and medical staff.

The domestic staff were under the authority of one of the assistant matrons, who also controlled the supply of domestic goods (cleaning materials, linen etc.)

There was a good working relationship between the nursing staff, medics and other front line workers i.e. radiographers, physios, dieticians etc. which led to the  smooth running of the hospital.

There were no HCAs or other untrained people on the nursing staff, just student nurses. I know that there are some degree trained nurses today who seem to think we would not be able to cope with today’s training (nice old girls but a bit dim and we don’t understand what it is like to be under pressure!!)

Our first 11 weeks were spent in the Preliminary Training School. We worked the same hours as in the hospital (48 hours a week excluding meals). The whole time was taken with lectures, demonstrations and practising the new skills we had been shown. At a rough calculation this is 528 hours, no free periods, any private study had to be done in our “free”  time!

Of course there have been many advances made in medicine over the last half century so we would have different things to learn, but some of the advances would make some of our lectures and demonstrations superfluous now thus freeing up time for the new methods and theory. We learned very complicated methods of bandaging, urine testing was done using chemicals in test tubes over bunsen burners (not little sticks to dip in). We learned how to make and pack dressings and how to sterilise them, they did not come in convenient packs. Many of the medicines and injections had to be calculated and measured. They did not come in handy ampoules. 

We did invalid cookery and general nutritional needs. The meals were delivered to the wards in heated trolleys and served by the Sister and handed round by the nurses, who fed those unable to feed themselves, and reported back if the patient was not eating, so I never heard of anyone suffering from malnutrition.

As well as the obvious subjects (anatomy, physiology, hygiene, first aid etc.) we also had lectures on the history of nursing, legal aspects, ethics and it was impressed on us too how limited our knowledge was at this stage.

I don’t know whether we were especially fortunate, but our training was carefully planned and supervised. I worked out that over the three years we spent 1100 hours in the school and 5556 hours on the wards, which probably compares quite well with a three year degree course!

After we had gained our SRN we had to do 1 year as a staff nurse to get the coveted hospital badge and certificate, only then were we considered fully trained!

When we went on the wards we were given only the tasks for which we had been trained, and were usually paired with a nurse further along in her training.

The NHS was still relatively new and the patients remembered the time when they either had to pay for treatment or be means tested for voluntary hospitals, so most of them were very grateful for the treatment they received. They had no problem knowing which were SRNs, students, domestics, radigraphers etc. as we all had distinctly different uniforms.

Every ward had a permanent Sister, Staff nurse and domestics. Each Consultant had his own firm of registrars, housemen and student dressers and they usually had beds on 2-3 wards. I don’t remember any problems in getting a doctor when we needed one.

Our ward training was divided between the QE, a modern hospital which specialised in heart surgery and neuro surgery as well as the general wards, the General Hospital, an older long established hospital was in the centre of the city and dealt with a huge number of emergencies. We also spent three months each at  The Children’s Hospital and the Women’s Hospital, so we had a very good alround experience, by the time we had completed our training.

We had study blocks in our second and third years, where we had lectures from the same consultants who lectured the medical students.

The time spent on the wards not only increased our abilities to perform the tasks set, but also gradually increased our confidence. Of course some ward sisters were better teachers than others (just as some lecturers are better able to impart their knowledge!!) and some managed their wards better than others.

We had (what I think) were advantages, in that we had to live in the nurses home, so we had no domestic worries to distract us. We were all single, so no family worries! We were well fed, our uniforms were provided and laundered. Of course at the time we thought we were too closely guarded by Home Sister and the wardens and a Matron who considered herself in loco parentis, but I see now that it gave us security, and we always had the fun of out-witting them. 🙂

Because we lived in such a closed community there was a great loyalty for your “set” and friendships were forged which have lasted to this day. Whenever I meet or write to my friends we are all agreed that we were lucky to train when we did and would not want to be starting now.

If the “blogs” I read are an accurate description of hospital life today,  the hospitals are run by bureaucrats, matrons are distant from the nurses, patients are  increasingly demanding, visitors wander around at will and the domestic staff are provided by outside agencies who have profit as the guideline. I think the rot set in when the government in the 1980s decided that “market forces” should rule and patients became “consumer units”.

Yes, we were the lucky generation to train when we did. It was hard work, long hours and low pay, but, we were generally respected, had a lot of fun made lots of friends and most of the patients were lovely.

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