RETRO: Maid shortage put hospital opening at risk

Jessop Hospital for Women, Sheffield'Baby Care Unit - 1st November 1989
Jessop Hospital for Women, Sheffield'Baby Care Unit - 1st November 1989
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The nurses were ready, the equipment was ready but one thing put the opening of the new Jessop Hospital building in peril ... a shortage of maids.

More than 1,000 Sheffield women were waiting for beds and needed to be nursed back to health so they could rejoin the war effort but there just weren’t enough domestic staff around.

Jessops Hospital for Women, Sheffield 1978

Jessops Hospital for Women, Sheffield 1978

This “very serious matter” was reported on November 17, 1942, at the annual meeting of Jessop Hospital Linen League.

The £150,000 Jessop extension had been announced on May 10, 1938 – a thoroughly up-to-date hospital with 227 beds, compared with the previous 143.

The public were asked to give their generous support to make sure Sheffield kept leading the way in making healthcare accessible to all no matter what their background or social standing.

There was great excitement about the city’s maternity ‘flying squad’ which consisted of a surgeon, nurse and all the necessary apparatus - ready to rush to any emergency where the woman was deemed unfit to be moved.

It was so successful in Sheffield it was made available to people in West Riding and Nottinghamshire too.

According to the 1938 report the scale of salaries recommended by the General Nursing Council had been put into operation and a reduction of working hours - to 96 a fortnight - would be “sympathetically considered immediately the supply of staff indicated this possible”.

Lord Mayor Alderman EG Rowlinson, said: “I think Sheffield is entitled to say that because of the wonderful loyalty of a large and widespread volume of public opinion, the city stands high in the country for its service to those who are sick.”

It was very gratifying to know that Sheffield was keeping well abreast of the times in this matter, he added.

“As representing the city, I say to all of you, both of the administrative and nursing staff, who have made such a successful effort last year, thank you for all you have done and God speed in the work you are doing.”

When the new Jessop Hospital building’s first beds were officially declared open in July 1943 it was met with widespread wonder and delight - Sheffield was truly setting the standard for the whole country.

Here’s how we reported it at the time: “The new Jessop Hospital building in Sheffield, standing clean and high and symbolic of the post-war world in an area where yawning doors and broken windows show blitzed and fallen houses, is already in use. Tomorrow the opening and dedication of beds in the new maternity block will take place.

“The women of Sheffield would be astonished if they could see this premier women’s hospital. Mothers have their babies in conditions that our grandmothers would hardly have believed possible.

“Every mother is alone in a private room after her baby is born and she is convalescent. Then she is transferred to a spacious, airy room which she shares with one or two other mothers.

“In her own private ward she rests happily in completely hygienic and comfortable surroundings.

“If she wants a nurse she has only to touch her bedside bell. This causes a lamp outside the door to light up and a buzzer to sound at a central place in the corridor.

“And the babies? They can be seen through the corridor and partition walls in the special nurseries. The rows of cots lie in the light silent rooms which nobody may enter unmasked.

“Nurses wear masks all the time they are at work with the babies.

“There is a specially-heated room for premature babies, and the hospital has just sent home a baby, now normal sized, which weighed just 2lbs 6ozs when born.”

“After the war there is to be a big opening ceremony for the whole building. But tomorrow’s ceremony is important in marking the coming into use of the long-awaited beds.”

n See Page 11 for the latest on plans for the Jessop Hospital building plus Saturday’s Retro for memories of working there.