West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections





Nurse Winifred Bacon

The hospital training school was on the Ackton site, which was set in lovely gardened grounds. It was a good place to study nursing as it was away from the busy wards and only a short bus ride away from home. We still wore our nurses uniform in class and could travel home in uniform only if we wore either a nurses cloak or a navy blue mackintosh. We often got a free ride on the buses whilst wearing uniform, but matron was not pleased if nurses were seen smoking whilst on or of duty in uniform in a public place.

So I went back to PGI where I was allocated to the ENT (ear, nose and throat) ward where the children and a few adults would have their tonsils and adenoids removed. Favoured by the children were the ice lollipops once they had recovered from the anaesthetic.

I spent a short time in the operating theatre, which was a very scary place for a novice. ENT days were the worst because 6-8 children would arrive all seated on one trolley – some not uttering a sound whilst others were crying. The ward nurse would stay with them until one by one each had their tonsils removed and returned to the ward to recover. Most of the tasks for the students in OT were cleaning and packing drums for the autoclave, which sterilised instruments and dressings.

Although the NHS was well established, savings still had to be made. Some of the savings which student nurses helped to make was to rewind washed bandages, warm the cotton wool in order to make more cotton balls, wash gloves and check them for holes and be re-sterilised. Most things were recycled and very little was thrown away. In fact there was some ‘competition’ between the hospitals as to who could save the most money each year. One matron would cut soap in half and tie it to the sink so it wouldn’t go missing.

Nursing school with Mrs Taylor Fooling around after nurses exams
Nursing school with Mrs Taylor, Tutor Fooling around after exams

The day eventually arrived for taking the state exams, followed by the hospital exams with the endless wait until we received our results. I remember being very jubilant and proud to attain my Certificate of Registration to practice as a State Registered Nurse but sad for my friend, who had failed mainly because her father had died at sea and she hadn’t been able to do her revision (she passed the second time).

My favourite surgeon in OT was Mr Rhind, who at first really frightened me, but once I got proficient at ‘scrubbing up’ with him, I looked forward to his OT lists. A friend of mine, Sister King, was really good at training recruits in theatre and she would write down every procedure with a list of every instrument, needle and thread one would ever require for any operation.

I often got my leg pulled as my name was Sister Bacon, scrub nurse, with Mr Rhind as surgeon. We once had a patient called Mrs Onions, who had a liver biopsy – so that day we had Bacon, Rhind, liver and Onions.

After several years in OT, again I wanted a change and to go back to patient care in the real nursing sense, but there didn’t seem much chance of this as all sister posts were filled. However, fate took a hand. We had a senior registrar in surgical training who was about to get married, but the wedding was called off at the last minute and he returned to work at PGI. He soon recovered from his ordeal and began courting the ward sister on the female surgical ward. Wedding bells began to ring and they were soon married. They had three daughters very quickly and moved to Leeds. This was my chance to apply for the post on ward 6. There were no application forms to fill in or interviews to attend, I simply spoke to the Senior Surgical Consultant, Mr J A Rhind and the matron, Miss Parfitt, and the job was mine. All my experience in OT stood me in good stead but I had a lot of adjusting to do after several years of absence from ward work.

As you can see from the photograph below, the uniform had changed. We went the American way and wore white dresses with coloured belts to distinguish the grades – navy for sisters, mauve for staff nurses and green for SEN’s (State Enrolled Nurses).

Sister, State Enrolled Nurse and Staff Nurse. Great team!

photo submitted by Winifred Bacon

State Enrolled Nurse and Staff Nurse

It was wonderful work – the ward sister had her team, a junior sister, a staff nurse, one SEN, a few students and not forgetting the auxiliary nurses, who were a tremendous help to everyone.

The ‘domestic’ side of the ward was under the supervision of the assistant matron, who kept everyone on their toes and the system worked well. We still worked 45 hours per week so the shifts were long. We had one hour for lunch and, as the hospital was within walking distance of the town centre, that is where we headed for lunch. My mother got quite worried about me at one stage, as 2 or 3 times a week she would see me coming out of a pub (they made nicer sandwiches than the café).

PGI was soon to be extended and all the major disciplines were to be under one roof. Medicine and procedures improved and patients’ stays in hospital were reduced. Princess Margaret performed the opening ceremony at PGI, and as you can imagine, it was a great day for everyone.

The new wing was opened and we had a Central Sterilising Service Department or CSSD. More equipment became disposable – syringes, needles, gloves, catheters and dressings etc; the throwaway age had arrived.

The new wards were clean, bright and more spacious, but the ward sister could no longer see her patients, as her office had been allocated at the end of the corridor.

Then the wind of change began to blow. Along came the Salmon Report in 1967. It set up a new structure for nursing, which recommended a nursing structure under the direction of a Chief Nursing Officer. Out went the matrons, so care and direction began to fragment. The ‘domestic’ side of the hospital care went out to tender and attention to hygiene began to slide. The domestics’ hours and pay were cut. The happy band of people all working for the same end was over.

The student training was taken out of the hospitals and into colleges, so ended the traditional training from the ‘shop floor’ to the office. During all this, the working week went to 35 hours so staff were spread very thinly, as the qualified staff no longer had the student nurses assisting them. Lots of care and treatment improved tremendously and, where we would have had half our patients convalescing, we were now sending them home quite quickly – so most of the ward consisted of high dependency patients.

During my reign as ward sister I became senior ward manager – no extra pay, just extra workload, as I had by this time qualified as a stoma care nurse and would do a lot of work in that area as well as covering for the breast care nurse. Not all surgeons welcomed a sister with ‘knowledge’ – some did not like us interfering with their patients (even for the patient’s comfort), but specialist nurses soon became accepted and are now very much in demand.

Then, in came Trust Hospitals, which changed the whole concept of nursing. Computers and form filling took the place of hands-on nursing. The difference on emphasis of values and procedures left me unfulfilled and dissatisfied and so in 1994 I took early retirement.

Winifred Bacon (nee Winn)

Bedpan Days has been reproduced from a booklet published by Winifred Bacon and dedicated to the memory of the late Derrick Johnson. All proceeds from the sale of Winifred’s book ‘Bedpan Days’ were in aid of the Prince of Wales Hospice in Pontefract. All photographs accompanying this article have been submitted by Winifred Bacon.



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