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Things were better for nurses, not just patients, under the NHS

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First inspired by third world nurse shortages, Stephanie Leslie was in the NHS from the very beginning till 2003

Stephanie Leslie
Age: 84
1948: Qualified as a nurse in Brighton
Became: Nurse Practitioner
Retired: Worked past retirement as an occupational health nurse until 2003

Stephanie Leslie decided to become a nurse when she was 19 years old after hearing a radio programme telling of shortages of midwives and nurses in India and Sri Lanka.

After qualifying at the age of 23 in 1948 in Brighton, she continued to nurse and even worked past retirement in occupational health until 2003, when she was 80.

According to Stephanie there was initially some resentment to the new generation of nurses who qualified and went straight into the NHS when it began 60 years ago.

Pay was better and the uniform looked more feminine, said Stephanie.

Nurses also worked eight hour shifts, instead of from 7.30 in the morning to 8.30 at night.

‘I think we felt that the nurses were a bit spoilt doing these eight hour shifts. We had been used to doing longer hours.

‘But we felt pleased for them and we felt that they probably would be able to show more attention to patients.’

Nurses were well supported in the local community and often got unofficial bus rides, free cinema and theatre tickets, and free entry to the skating rink.

When she was training, nurses’ social lives revolved around the many airmen, sailors and soldiers being treated in the hospital at the end of the war.

‘We would go to visit the blind soldiers once a week and we would have a little dance. Sometimes we would take them dancing,’ she said.

Stephanie felt the services offered by the new NHS were fantastic. ‘It was great for the patients and they could have fantastic services.

‘After I qualified I worked in the ear, nose and throat hospital. One patient, a man between 65 and 70, he had cancer of the throat, he was bald, he couldn’t eat properly, he was deaf and he looked about 90.

‘We removed the cancer and he was in the ward for about three months. When he went out he had a wig, he had a hearing aid…he had had a tracheotomy so we taught him to talk and swallow.

‘When he went out he was a spritely, happy man looking his age, about 65. I thought: “This man is representing what the National Health Service can do for patients. It was great.”’

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