Memories of Preston's nursing school

As the NHS celebrates its 70th anniversary and a new book written by nurses from both Preston Royal Infirmary and Sharoe Green Hospitals recalls nurse training in Preston 50 years ago, Jane Dean reports

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 13th September 2018, 10:29 am
Updated Thursday, 13th September 2018, 11:37 am
Nurse Training School at Sharoe Green Hospital in 1968, from left, Jean Harrison Scott, Kate Sanderson and Jane Dean
Nurse Training School at Sharoe Green Hospital in 1968, from left, Jean Harrison Scott, Kate Sanderson and Jane Dean

In September 1968, 28 new nursing recruits formed the first preliminary training school intake to combine the two nurse training schools of Sharoe Green Hospital and Preston Royal Infirmary.

The newly built extension to Sharoe Green included a state-of-the-art nurse training school, together with accommodation where all students under the age of 21 had to live in.

Student nurses were greeted with a set of rules

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Trainee nurses from Sharoe Green Hospital on a night out circa 1970

given out by Home Sister whose job was similar to that of a parent, to ensure the safety and well-being of her charges.

The rules included one late pass a month until 11pm; on no account were men allowed into the nurses’ home; uniform must not be worn outside the hospital and no jewellery, apart from gold sleepers for those with pierced ears.

Make-up of any description was discouraged when in uniform, while uniform dresses had to be below the knee and shoes were black Oxford style laced worn with thick black stockings.

Hair had to be captured into the cap, which resembled an up-turned chip packet, no hair had to be seen on the starched uniform collar.

Inside the wards at Sharoe Green and, right, author Jane Dean in her younger days

Most importantly no one, when on duty, could be addressed by their Christian first name; it was either, matron, sister, staff, doctor or nurse. The same was the case with our patients, they were addressed as either Mr, Mrs or Miss. Showing respect was paramount.

The first year training block at Sharoe Green meant living in the new accommodation. All rooms were fitted with bed, wardrobe, desk and chair – it felt good to be at the start of something new. The Beatles were top of the hit parade with Hey Jude, which could be heard coming from most rooms. It was a let down for those whose first wards were to be at Preston Royal Infirmary (PRI) as they were living in shared accommodation on Miles Street under the surveillance of Miss Murphy, who was not known for either her care or compassion towards student nurses.

On the wards there was a very strict hierarchy led by matron. Ward sisters were next in line and many appeared harsh and unbending. All students learned very early on in training that to complain would be seen as insolence and not tolerated.

On corridors, students gave way to doctors and senior staff. The hierarchical governance was also evident in the dining room. Consultants and doctors had their own room, sisters and staff nurses had their own table and it was unlikely that a third year student nurse would sit with a first year.

Graduate nurses on presentation day at Sharoe Green Hospital on September 30, 1972

Midwives had their own area as it was thought they might pick up infections from the general wards and infect the maternity suite.

During the first year, much ward time was taken up cleaning. In those days flowers were still allowed, as was smoking, so cleaning flower vases and ash trays along with bed pans, beds and lockers were all part of the daily routine.

Theatre work was hard, even thought central sterile supplies were on the horizon, nurses were still washing and scrubbing instruments before placing them in autoclaves, which were extremely hot and very steamy.

Nurses would wear a white gown over their uniform as operating blues had yet to reach Preston.

The theatres at PRI, under the management of Sister Stirzaker and the new theatres at Sharoe Green under Sister McGovern, were rigorously maintained to a very high standard and infections at that time, were below the national average.

Hand washing was instilled from day one, as there were not the readily available disposable gloves of today. Many developed dermatitis with sore hands from constantly dipping into carbolic or Savlon solutions.

The severe discipline and constant criticisms were sometimes hard to bear. It was an apprentice-style education, learning on the job with several weeks back in the classroom each year.

Student nurses were expected to buy their own books and writing paper as well as finding time to study and prepare case studies while working full- time on the wards.

These were exciting times as basic skills were constantly improving and being challenged. Students felt privileged to be working with committed and dedicated staff. Patients were nursed in bed for quite long periods. Treating the skin to prevent bed sores was required on all the wards. Metal bed pans had to be warmed before taken to the patients and personal care was delegated to the student nurse which included mouth, nail and hair care.

Urine testing was an important aspect of training. Night staff would collect the urine and the student on day duty could be faced with up to 30 urine samples each morning.

Bunsen burner, test tube and a variety of testing solutions checked for blood, glucose, protein, ketones and specific gravity. All results recorded and charted.

A curfew of 10pm gave little chance for any meaningful social activity. Visits to Blackpool were eagerly arranged as ice skating and the Tower Ballroom were appealing. The bus back to Preston was too late to catch the corporation bus on to the hospital so the nurses walked back from the bus station.

Both hospitals were firmly locked at night so students had to enlist the support of the night porters to gain entry unobserved. Being caught by home sister would be the loss of late passes for one month and repeated offenders would be reported to matron. For some the thrill of the deception was part of the night out but to others it cast a cloud until they were safely back in the nurses home.

Working hours were long. A split shift meant working from 8am until 2pm then back at 5pm until 8pm. Night duty was the same as today, 12 hours from 8pm until 8am. Salary was between £9 and £12 per month while accommodation and food were provided.

Preston was known throughout the medical fraternity for innovation and skill. Although the NHS was barely 20 years old, the medical staff were making their contribution to the health of the nation.

Mr Robert Garden was the senior orthopaedic surgeon. He devised and developed a classification of hip fractures and a highly ingenious method of hip repair by placing two screws at an angle. His work became acknowledged and accepted by orthopaedic surgeons throughout the world, bringing great honour to Preston and its Infirmary.

He also fought hard to establish an intensive care unit for seriously injured patients, a concept very much in its infancy 50 years ago. His son was Graeme Garden, one of the three Goodies alongside Tim Brooke Taylor and Bill Oddie. Mr Garden himself always possessed a sense of fun.

Mr Ken Tutton was appointed in 1955 as consultant neurosurgeon. The department quickly became a prestigious head injury service covering north Lancashire and continues to be so today. Mr Tutton was innovative and committed to improving the lot of the brain injured patient.

Dr Hall the casualty officer at that time was inspired by the work of Professor Keith Simpson. He was the famous Home Office pathologist who, through his autopsies, had identified what he termed ‘battered babies’. Dr Hall went on to identify different types of fracture some children presented in casualty. He coined the phrase, ‘non–accidental injuries to children’ which has been acknowledged as a national contribution to this type of trauma in children.

The hardships of training did eventually pay off. Many went on to work abroad often in very different circumstances but training had equipped them for dealing with any emergency situation with a calmness that had instilled.

l To Heal the Sick was written by Jane Dean (nee Glaister) with contributions from Anne Milroy nee Baines, Ann Worthington nee Eaton, Anne Saunders nee Stewart, Heather Hunter nee Thwaite, Noreen Ledwidge nee O’Mahony, Margaret Fazackerly nee Turner, Linda Schofield nee Harries, Jacky Tompkins nee Grundy, Madeline Cornell nee Vandome and Penny Hayes (nee Marsden), It is available now priced £7.99 from Halewoods in Friargate, Preston, and Amazon.