Irene Hall reflects on her 50 years in the NHS and what has changed during that time
During the ’60s, Liverpool put its name on the map, becoming a hub for music and producing a band you may have heard of called The Beatles. It’s also where Irene Hall began her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse.
Presently a triage sister at an out-of-hours GP centre in Cheshire, Irene witnessed the city’s transformation during that decade, but didn’t let it distract her and is now celebrating her 50th year working with the NHS.
In her last year of secondary school, she completed a pre-nursing training course, which set her up for her future career working in the NHS. On 1 June 1966, aged 18, she began training at Broadgreen Hospital in Liverpool. Training for student nurses was different then and she says she was unprepared for her first role on a medical ward for diabetes.
“We were mentored on the ward but perhaps left vulnerable because, by and large, we learnt hands-on,” says Irene.
Prior to training, aspiring nurses were required to participate in preliminary exams focussing on anatomy and physiology. Over 18 months, students received a basic training in healthcare. Following this, they were mentored by the sisters, allowing them to gain knowledge quickly.
“You left each ward knowing the subject inside out,” says Irene.
The student nurses relied on each other to maintain the ward under the guidance of the sister, with cleanliness at the top of the list.
“The sister took immense pride in keeping the wards well-maintained and fastidiously clean”
“There was a real feeling of ownership. The sister took immense pride in keeping the wards well-maintained and fastidiously clean; there was low risk of infection spreading or the superbugs that have now become commonplace.
“Those were the happiest days of my life. We all worked together and shared a positive attitude and mindset; the sole focus was on delivering the best possible care.”
There was a diversity of work given to them because there were fewer staff than there are today, but productivity remained high with the seamless teamwork.
Training is just one of the many differences Ms Hall has observed over the course of her career. With technological advances and in-depth medical research, people are now living longer and patients have better choices.
“Surgically, research has advanced phenomenally,” says Irene. “The recovery time was often protracted in comparison with today; day surgery plays a major part in today’s surgical procedures and we have come miles since the days where intensive care didn’t exist.”
There is also much more scope for development with the advent of specialist nurses.
“We have come miles since the days where intensive care didn’t exist”
“When I think back to what we used to be, you have to think ‘was it right’?” says Irene. She says there were moments when her team’s knowledge didn’t feel wide enough, and that they had to rely on their gut instinct. “When I qualified, the head of nursing said to me ‘the main thing is that not a single patient died because of you’.”
When Irene had children, she started working nights on the surgical ward before working in the accident and emergency department for 30 years.
Her one regret is not doing midwifery because she wanted to get married and enjoy her family life. Back then the matron’s permission was required for marriage and those who received her blessing were unable to work as a ward sister once married for fear of them not having 100% focus on the job at hand.
Irene says she feels there is less regiment in patient care now and standards do not seem to be as high.
“I have enjoyed my career immensely and I made the best career choice I could have ever made”
“Although, we are now contending with the public’s unrealistic expectation of what they are entitled to. I don’t know how we will fully address this issue,” she says. “But, with the government’s introduction of a seven-day NHS, maybe if patients become more aware they can see a GP for less urgent health needs, at any time, and this will ease pressures on A&E.”
Reflecting on her five decades with the NHS, she says she doesn’t regret being a part of it for so long: “I never wanted to be anything else. I have enjoyed my career immensely and I made the best career choice I could have ever made.”