HEALTHY LIVING: Matron patrolled the wards

NHS 60 Years of Changed Dr Derek Holsdworth
NHS 60 Years of Changed Dr Derek Holsdworth
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Dr Derek Holdsworth, aged 78, started his training in the NHS in 1952, qualifying as a physician and rising to consultant specialising in gastroentology.

He trained in Leeds and worked at the old Royal Infirmary in Upperthorpe, before moving to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital when the Infirmary closed. Since his retirement in 1995 he has helped develop the Sheffield Hospitals Historic Collections.

“In 1952 I was only a medical student, but well remember life in hospitals at the time.

“It has changed radically in the last 60 years.

“Patients stayed in hospital much longer in 1952.

“Even minor surgery meant several days in bed for recovery - a cataract operation, now performed as a day case, meant several days in hospital.

“Patients with a heart attack were kept in bed and even fed by a nurse for as long as 10 days.

“But if your heart stopped in those few days, there was no resuscitation - cardiac arrest teams only came a decade later.

“No new building, maintenance work and only emergency repairs had been done during the 1939-45 war, or in the seven years since.

“The city was strapped for cash and the voluntary hospitals were heavily in debt.

“The facilities on the wards and operating theatres reflected this, although every surface was polished, the floors spotless, and the beds in regimented rows down each side of the large wards immaculate, even down to the direction in which their wheels pointed.

“Shortage of beds was, as it is in 2012, often a problem, especially in winter when the medical wards were full of patients with bronchitis and pneumonia.

“Discipline was firm and authority respected - to perhaps an unhealthy degree.

“The doctors, even senior consultants, were in awe of the ward sisters, whose authority on the ward was difficult to challenge.

“Matron was very much in evidence, touring the wards.

“Perhaps some doctors and surgeons still treated patients with a degree of brusqueness, habits acquired when consultants gave their services to the public hospitals free.

“Dr Naish, a consultant at the Jessop and Children’s Hospital, is recorded as being surprised in 1948 to receive a pay cheque. Like all other consultants, until then he relied largely on private practice for his income.

“Central sterile supply units didn’t appear for many years after 1952.

“Needles and syringes were used repeatedly, only being boiled in the ward steriliser between patients.

“For the doctor and nurse this often meant delays until one of the small number of syringes became available.

“I vividly recollect having coffee with nurses in the intervals between operations, watching them wash and drying rubber gloves, and powdering them for re-use. “

“I worked in general practice for a few months soon after qualifying in 1957, and remembers patients as being, by modern standards, undemanding.

“They accepted as inevitable the long waits in their doctor’s surgery, queuing sometimes for hours on wooden benches in the morning or afternoon surgery, appointment systems being rare.

“But the GP gave a 24-hour service and, in general, if you were ill in bed at home you had a far better chance of being attended there by your own doctor than is the case in 2012, although he - rarely she - would have far fewer effective treatments.”