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Nurse looks back at 50 years in the profession

Nancy Bennett, a staff nurse at Doncaster Royal Infirmary, can remember a time when different grades of nurse were not allowed to sit together and nurses helped carry patients on stretchers.

Ms Bennett, who retired in December, started her nursing career in 1962 as a pupil nurse at Strathclyde Hospital. She moved to Doncaster in 1978 as an enrolled nurse and completed her nurse conversion training in 1994.

She said: “Things have certainly changed since my days as a pupil nurse. Like many hospitals at that time, Strathclyde was an infectious disease hospital. We had long, open Nightingale-style wards called pavilions which had a kitchen in the middle. 

“I remember heating up the plates in water and serving the food for the patients. We used to do all the dusting on the ward and everything had to be in line for the matron’s inspection – it was very strict and regimental.  We even sterilised the glass syringes and metal needles on the ward by boiling them up in water.”

She added: “In those days, hospital nurses went out in the ambulance to pick up patients from their homes.  I will never forget having to help the driver carry the stretcher and being terrified of dropping it. 

“In the dining room there were separate tables for different grades of nurses. Student nurses were the lowest and we had to remain standing until the sisters were seated.” 

She also noted the change in staffing and patients since the 1970s, when she worked nights at the infirmary.

“We only had one trained nurse and an auxiliary covering both Wards 24 and 25,” she said. 

“Even though there were just two of us on nights looking after more patients, we seemed to have more time as the patients back then had different care needs. The patients in those days were much younger.”

Readers' comments (14)

  • Back in the olden days of the 80's when I was a student nurse I was not allowed to sit in the office for breaks. We gave up our chairs for staff nurses and sisters during handover. We pushed the notes trolleys and made sure the beds were at the right height for the consultants ward rounds.

    as far as patients went - we boiled eggs in the morning for their breakfast and laid out plates of buttered bread. we also sneaked off for fag breaks with patients (when they weren't smoking on the ward).

    we had 'facilitators' to help us through the first few shifts but after that we were on our own - no perceptership, no periods of supervision, no 'supernumary' status throughout our entire training.

    we also had fully funded post reg courses, days off for training days and plenty of staff to do our job properly.

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  • I started my nurse training in 1976 and remember the 'separate tables' in the dining room for sisters/staff nurses. You were scared stiff of the ward sisters, who only ever spoke to you to tell you off! I also remember doing my first lot of nights (10 week stint) on a combined paediatric/ orthopaedic unit. I had only been in nursing about 2 months and was left alone, in charge of a 30 bedded ward aged just 17! (you could specialise in Orthopaedics from age 17). I had to wake them up at 6am, wash them and make their breakfast (toast/cereal) and feed the babies/toddlers. We had a night sister to ring if any problems (hardly saw her!), but I do recall A&E ringing me on many a night, telling me they were sending down a patient (usually appendicitis cases)! Have to say I loved every minute of my nurse training and was well prepared/trained to run a ward on qualifying!

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  • Ms Bennet I probably worked with you as I was a pupil nurse at the DRI from 1977-79. I particularly recall my first set of 6 12 hour night shifts on the busy surgical floor where we were also 'on take' Patients on fluid charts were required to have their hrly oral fluids and at midnight they had to be added up and turned over and you would be in trouble if they were totalled inaccurately. Again I only had an auxillary nurse for the trained nurse was shared between the 2 wards each with 32 beds. I recall the bromptons cocktail forterminally ill patients and testing urine for diabetics required tablets that fizzed and became hot in the glass test tubes. I spent 3 months on my first ward orthopaedics where I learned basic care starting with scrubbing the used bed pans in the sluice following the round wearing a very long heavy rubber apron. At least when we trained then we learned the importance of feeding patients and basic nursing care something todays nurses seem to think is not important anymore

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  • I believe I had an excellent training in many respects in the mid to late 70s, at least it has always stood me in very good stead. However, I prefer to look forward rather than back to where we cannot return or change in the hopes things will get better.

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  • I trained in 1978 and we were taught to look at a patient from head to toe so we woudnt miss anything? Everything was very regimented on the ward. Bath book, drinks book, denture book, pressure area check book etc. I remember on nights in A/E being sent up to the medical wards at 6am to observe cardiac patients. In my 3rd year I was in charge of an acute medical ward with an auxillary nurse on nights, I had 5 minutes to spare and was studying with my back to the door. I didnt hear the night sister come in so didnt stand up to acknowledge her, boy did I get told off. There were good and bad things about those times. We have to change with the times.

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  • Anonymous | 11-Jan-2013 7:18 pm

    from Anonymous | 11-Jan-2013 5:17 pm

    seems things were far more uniform then as well as I can relate to the experiences of most nurses of that era and the high standards our patients enjoyed.

    As a very new junior staff nurse I was very upset when a nursing officer came into the office asking for Nurse So and So. I did not know whether she was on the ward or where she was although I helped to look for her. Just after the No. xyz left, my colleague walked in through the door so I went to the stair well where Madam had gone down only two flights of stairs, and with nobody else around, called gently to her than Ann was now in the office. I thought I was being helpful! Well, when I was back in the office the door flew open and I was severely reprimanded by this Madam for (1) calling after her down the stairs and (2) referring to my colleague by her given name! Having often been cited for my quiet and good manners I was very taken aback at her ferocious manner.

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  • the above comment made me chuckle, I remember as a pupil getting a telling telling off for referring to a staff nurse (friend) by her first name on the ward. Nowadays many of the students call me 'darling' or similar. I often have to perch on the desk during handover when all the chairs are used, or stand - not really what I want after a 12 hour shift but hey ho.

    i don't remember the fizzy urine test but do remember the specific gravity test.

    i do remember the brompton cocktail, I don't recall any issues in the media about it then or the fact that people died of pneumonia which was referred to as the 'old mans friend'.

    anyone over the age of 65 was a 'geriatric patient'.

    pressure sores were treated with bleach 'eusol' which you packed into the cavity and fizzed up.

    some things were better then, some not. I loved my nurse training, did pupil then left and re-trained RGN years later. I earned a pittance, paid council tax, worked horrendous shift patterns, was the 2nd person on nights most of the time and was usually completely ignored by most people. One thing I do think they should re-introduce is the competency books we had to complete.

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  • Anonymous | 12-Jan-2013 10:05 am

    you weren't supposed to chuckle - I was most hurt although I think after years in the profession I have got over it now. these things are often a good reflection and sharp lesson on how not to treat others.

    my mum, as junior pro, handed a newly admitted tramp a test tube and asked for a specimen! in sister's office with dark blue carpet, and stood there praying he would not pee on the carpet! I expect she would have been thrown out of PTS if he had.

    I remember all of the other things you mention above and think we could all get together and write the most wonderful book.

    I had a friend who was so besotted with her London Teaching hospital where she trained that she set aside one room of her house as a museum with every relic she could find - albums, notebooks, photos, scarves, mugs, books, teddy bears, etc. She must have trained in about the 30s and rose through the ranks, first as Radium Sister (the medics had another name for her which I can't recall!) as she used to carry it in a container through the park and along the underground passages! She became a theatre sister, married late in life to a surgeon, and was widowed fairly soon after. She retired, possibly early, and gathered all the Exs from her hospital in our area of which there were many, including our family. She had numerous parties and was always entertaining us in which she revelled in as well as nurturing all the doctors and nurses who had trained in her hospital and newly moved to our area. nearly all her conversation was around the good old days. She was a great personality and fantastic net worker.

    Sadly I am now far away in another land and she is very elderly and eventually had to move into a home so we have lost touch.

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  • I trained in 1983,and remember a lot of the above, including the clinitest tablets that fizzed as you checked the patients urine for sugar. I also remember the weekend work books, and having to make sure that the metal bed pans had cooled off after coming out of the washer if there was a queue for them, so that they didn't burn the patients bottom! There was a lot of respect for the ward sisters, and no first name terms between trained staff and students unless you were one to one with them, and only then if they suggested it. Happy days though, but I agree that you have to look forward and make things as good as you can given the increased demand for services, and not enough staff to meet those demands. There wasn't so much paperwork then either; now we are drowning in it. Rarely were patients or their relatives rude to you, but now it is commonplace, mainly due to the high expectations set by government. Still, I'm glad to be a nurse,and wouldn't have changed it.

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  • we used to write our 'kardex's' in red on nights - 'slept well', that was about it.

    patients used to get out of bed more then, they walked to the tv lounge and interacted with each other, often helping do the tea-rounds.

    relatives sat on chairs and children under 10 were not allowed in to visit.

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  • Anonymous | 13-Jan-2013 7:10 pm

    patient interaction was probably very important. those who were fit enough and liked doing it used sometimes make the drinks and/or serve them from the trolley, and help make beds. I wonder if that still happens or is it forbidden for some reason by H&S now?

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  • Ellen Watters

    I remember doing my enrolled nurse training in 1979 in Edinburgh and feeling scared and excited at the same time. We were very much not supernumery, we were in the clinical area more often than the classroom and we loved every minute of it..

    I qualified as an enrolled nurse at the end of 1980 and was in charge of an orthopaedic ward on nights at the grand old age of 21.. wow ..

    I remember nursing officer rounds on nights we had to stand up take off our cardigans and walk round with them giving a report of any concerns we had.. We wouldn't dream of calling anyone by their first name..

    5 am was tea and toast time just before lights on and drug round which included Bromptons Cocktail and we cleaned wounds with and Edinburgh University developed substance called EUSOL (Edinburgh University Solution Of Lime, I think)

    *sigh*.. Good times good times..

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  • Air rings on chairs for sore bottoms, fizzy EUSOL in wounds, 2 nurses to dress wounds, insert catheters etc - "dirty" nurse and "clean" nurse, flat black lace-up shoes, red-lined wool capes, free hospital transport for staff, patients day-rooms, 1 trolley phone per ward, 1 resus trolley in Reception. Having the nurses home doors locked at 11pm with a signing in/out book.

    Doctors being called Sir, Nursing Officers being called Maam, all nurses being called by their job title (students were called Nurse ...........). Hats that got more elaborate and longer the more senior you were.

    Patients being called by their surname, all documentation kept in the locked notes trolley, patients respecting staff and calling them by their title, relatives only coming in during strict visiting times. Feeling I'd finally made it when I was invited to Sisters post-wardround teaparty as a 3rd year student on my final 'management' placement.

    Being guaranteed a job for 6 months post qualifying - being encouraged to apply for a job on a ward you actually wanted to work on in an area you were interested in.

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  • all the above is very familiar to me and black capes with red linings, turned inside out at Christmas for carol singing ward rounds.

    at the beginning of my stint on my first surgical ward (30 beds) it was the job of the junior night nurse to accompany night sister on her round without notes and tell her the bed number, name of patient, surgeon patient was under, diagnosis and any complications or changes in their condition that night or whether or not they were comfortable. Some of these unfamiliar diagnoses were
    real tongue twisters and I got as far as about beds 3 to 5 and triped up on some of these big medical words before drying up totally. Sister immediately stopped the round and went to the third year student in charge and out of my earshot severely reprimanded her for her junior not knowing her patients very well. I was embarrassed and only slightly upset when she told me because as a very mature student I also say the ridiculousness of her expectations and of the situation.

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