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You are in: Tyne > People > Your Stories > Life in the NHS

Highfield isolation hospital, Chester-le-Street

Rose, left, Highfield Hospital 1955

Life in the NHS

Rose Hails worked for the NHS in the North East from 1953 until 1994. Here are some extracts from her account of 1953-1959, from the fear of matron to the thrill of blind dates with the RAF lads.

Lorry-load of lads - 1953-1955

Age 16, I left my home in Ashington for a pre-nursing position at an annexe of Newcastle General Hospital - Wellburn Nursery, Ovingham.

In charge was Sister Plaskett, strict and fair disciplinarian. Cleanliness was next to Godliness, Terry napkins white as snow.

Wellburn Nursery, Ovingham early 1950s

Sister Plaskett, Wellburn Nursery

Uniform consisted of a blue and white striped dress, white apron, cuffs and collar, butterfly caps, black shoes, stockings - and smart we were.

Wages were five pounds, rising to six per week after deduction of board and lodgings.

Toddlers were walked twice a day. First nurses to the pram shed claimed the two Silver Crosses, the rest got buggy types, deep brown body, tiny wheels (1930s original).

Smallest child per pram, the rest held by reins. Once out of sight all were dumped into the prams.

Highlight of the day was a passing lorry load of National Service lads from the nearby RAF camp, amid wolf whistles, chancy remarks or an occasional blind date note.

We were allowed one late pass per week, 11pm, occasionally 12. Village hops, youth club parties, pictures and Saturday night at Prudhoe Ballroom, across the Tyne, via shanks's pony and occasional blind dates with dishy RAF lads.

Nurses doing PE at The Towers in Durham in 1955

PE on the lawn at The Towers, Durham 1955

Stiff upper lip - 1955-1957

Highfield Isolation Hospital, Chester-le-Street junior probationer (registered fever nurse). Three months in the preliminary training school at The Towers, Durham City (with Dryburn nurses).

Tutored by Sister Gascoigne and looked after by housekeeper and maid, we never had it so good. Great social life, ice rink, ballroom, pictures and parties.

After three months we returned to the isolation hospital where matron was a rigid disciplinarian (army style).

A telling off was what we called being blasted out. No-one was exempt. Sisters, doctors, domestics and gardeners. And we learned to take a telling off and had a stiff upper lip.

There were five wards, all separate buildings. Three long-stay tuberculosis, male and female were kept separated.

Cubicle patients had no visitors, so letters and parcels etc were handed into the lodge. Long stay babies and children could forget their parents and family.

Unpleasant tasks of handling and counting dirty linen (after treatment) before laundry, wearing protective clothing, but never ever was there cross infection or the horror of super bugs.

Rose (second left) at Wellburn Nursery

Rose (second left) at Wellburn Nursery

Six months into training we went to collect patients via ambulance. However, once we dropped in at the wrong house, who just happened to have someone sick.

Not the brightest family, they sent me upstairs, an old bed-bound granny began screaming. We swiftly departed from Number 37 to 57 for our patient who was a young woman. This we kept under wraps to avoid matron's fury.

My friend went to collect three tinker children with typhoid and the address was The Tent, The Tip, Durham. Some appalling conditions were encountered.

The saying was if you survived two years training to be a registered nurse at Highfield you could have joined the Foreign Legion. But I must say matron could be the most charming person off duty.

Hygiene imperative - 1957-1959

Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead. Two years general training (one year reduction for fever training).

Radium treatment. Removal of radium by nurses, garbed in rubber gown, gloves, shoes, cotton mask, geiger counter (radium output) and lead container.

Rose Hails (nee Stokoe) September 1959

Rose Hails (nee Stokoe) in 1959

Run like hell to the basement, deposit container, contents and check madly clicking geiger. White, green, red for danger? Do not fall nurse.

Three month's night duty allocated per year. Staff nurse, student, auxiliary each unit and two night sisters for the whole hospital.

Staff shortages, sickness and holidays could result in student nurses being in charge, thrown in at the deep end, but we coped.

Split shifts, 48 hour week, wages £12-20 per month and free meals.

There was not the mod cons and medical equipment of today and we did not have mountains of paperwork. But hygiene and nursing standards imperative.

last updated: 17/07/2008 at 14:19
created: 16/07/2008

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