As part of the #NHS70 campaign, Women in Healthcare UK are going to be publishing blogs on a regular basis that not only celebrate the organisation that changed the healthcare system in the UK in a massive way, but the hardworking, dedicated and inspiring people who work within our NHS!
This week, our focus will be on nurses and their history within the NHS. On July 5th 1948, the NHS was born and along with it came our incredible nurses. Since day one, they have gone above and beyond their duties to ensure that their patients receive the best care and support they need, even when they are over stretched, over worked and under paid for what they do. But how have our nurses changed?..
In the early years, the starting salary for a training nurse was £4 a month, around equivalent to an annual wage of £19,000 today. When qualified, most wages reached around £9 a month. However, out of this wage the rent and laundry charges from nurses accommodation was deducted which left many nurses only earning around £7 a month for around 48 hours per week! Another downside of nursing accommodation was that as nursing students, women would be locked in the nurses accommodation from 10:30pm, something that wasn’t questioned by the young women at the time (although we’re sure it would be questioned now!)
The uniform was something that was universally recognised, respected and admired by people within society. It usually consisted of a blue and white striped dress, stiff white collar, starched white apron, detachable white sleeves, white cap and a cape. The uniform, and more specifically the cape, was worn with pride and many ex nurses reflect on the fact they never had to stand on the tube or bus!
In the early 1950’s, training was basic compared to today’s standards! It lasted around eight weeks and training nurses studied anatomy, physiology, hygiene and the basic theory of nursing. They were also educated to treat patients as if they were a guest in their own homes and the standards of bed side manner that were expected of them. In training, it was drilled into nurses that hygiene was paramount and they were trained to scrub up to our elbows for two minutes in between treating each patient and as disposable utensils weren’t introduced until the 1960’s, they were taught how to painstakingly clean and sterilise every piece of equipment. This extended to thorough weekly cleans which included moving all the furniture in wards and it wasn’t until the 1970’s that each ward had a specific cleaner, meaning much of the nurses time in the early years was taken up by cleaning!
The matron was in charge of all the nurses (and more often than not, the nurses were on edge when she was around!) As a result, there was a strict sense of hierarchy on the wards that extended as far as nurses not speaking to doctors unless they were spoken to first! Anyone that broke the rules was reprimanded and there was a definite school like aspect to the hierarchy.