What nursing was like
Coal fires on the wards, no parents’ visits, a chapel for the children on Sunday evenings… life as a GOSH nurse was very different in the ‘old days’. Ninety-year-old Henny Walton, who trained at the hospital and later became Sister on Frederic Still ward, reminisces.
"I began my training in 1937 in the old GOSH building. The wards were laid out ‘Florence Nightingale’ style, with cots or beds in long rows on either side and the bathroom and sluice at one end. The heating on my ward came from four coal fires. Each night the nurses had to let two of the fires go out, always making sure they weren’t the ones that had been let out the night before.
"As trainees we had lots of cleaning duties. People now think that must have been dreadful, but it wasn’t dreadful at all. I just took it as a matter of course. After our mid-morning break we would go off to the bathroom or the sluice to do the cleaning, which got us a bit of peace and quiet away from Sister and the staff nurses! We also used to clear out and clean the bedside lockers, which gave us an ideal opportunity to chat to the patients.
"In the afternoon we would prepare a tea of bread and butter for the children - very good and very simple! The babies on the ward were fed either every three hours or every four hours. That was my favourite part of the job. We used to sit on little chairs to feed them and when I left the hospital they gave me one of the chairs as a keepsake.
"The end of my training coincided with the start of the war. On the day
before all the patients were due to be evacuated, we were told that we
had 12 hours to turn the diet kitchen and the mortuary into temporary
We knew that we would be doing emergency surgery
throughout the war and those two rooms were in a safer part of the
hospital than the regular operating theatre, which was on the sixth
floor. There were lots of children having surgery that day, so when we
weren’t needed in theatre we took it in turns to dash out and help scrub
out the diet kitchen and the mortuary!
"After some time working in other hospitals, I came
back to GOSH in 1950. During that time, while I was Sister on Frederic
Still ward, the
government decreed that the hospital should allow
parents to visit every day. For many years mothers and fathers had been
banned from coming at all, then theywere allowed to visit only on
Sunday afternoons because the children were dressed up and taken to
chapel on Sunday evenings, which was a good distraction after their
parents had left. I was asked to draw up a plan for daily visiting. We
decided that the best visiting time was when the children were about to
have their tea, so that the parents could help them clean their teeth
and get them to sleep. It worked very well.
"All in all, I had a very happy time at GOSH. I didn’t really think of it as a career - I just loved it."
Nicki Mumford is the senior
staff nurse on Frederic Still ward today. She explains how nurses’ roles
and hospital care have changed since Henny Walton first donned her GOSH
"We come on duty at either 8am or 8pm for a 12-hour
of the nurses is allocated a patient (or patients) and he
or she takes responsibility for that child’s care for the whole shift, under
the supervision of the nurse in charge. Once we know who’s looking
after which patient, we do a wardround with the doctors. They
prescribe the medication but we are responsible for giving it to the
patients throughout our shift. It’s not just a question of doling out
tablets - if a child needs an intravenous drip, for example, we would do
that. It’s very hands-on.
"These days Frederic Still ward is arranged into
four single cubicles and one three-bedded area. Children stay an average
of about two months and we have patients of all ages, ranging from a
few hours to about 17 years. If we do have older teenagers we try to
give them one of the single cubicles but it’s not always possible. It’s
hospital policy to make sure that babies under six months have a
cubicle, mainly to limit their chances of picking up an infection.
"The nurses do no cleaning at all - there are
domestics who do all of that - and all of the children’s meals are
prepared in the main hospital kitchen and brought to the ward. If a
patient doesn’t want what’s on offer, parents will often nip out to get a
burger and bring it back for their child!
"One parent can stay the whole time if that’s what
they want - we have beds available for them on the ward. Mums and dads
who aren’t staying here can visit at any time of day or night, as can
the patient’s brothers and sisters. You won’t find many children in the
chapel on a Sunday night - they’re more likely to be watching
"In fact, overall, the routine is nothing like as
strict. There are no afternoon naps and no strict bedtime, although we
do try to dim the lights at about 7pm, in an effort to get the children
in the mood for sleep!
specialists have a big role on the wards now. Ours has a big playroom
here that’s full of toys and she does far more than just play with the
children. She is trained in massage therapy and will also use play to
distract a child who is anxious or frightened - for example, when a
patient is having an IV drip fitted or before a test or surgical
procedure. There’s also a hospital school which children aren’t always
too happy to hear about when they arrive!
"Another difference is probably the number of
consultants who are involved in the care of children on Frederic Still
ward - a total of 11. It’s because we have patients with a mixture of
endocrine (hormonal) and metabolic disorders, which cause a huge range
of health problems.
"I’ve worked at GOSH for 14 years now - I absolutely love it. And I’m very glad to say that we now have underfloor heating!"
Visit the website for The Great Ormond Street Hospital Nurses League
to find out more about past and present nurses.