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‘We would have sherry for older patients’ - One of Norfolk’s longest-serving nurses on how the NHS has changed

PUBLISHED: 08:14 25 November 2018 | UPDATED: 16:42 25 November 2018

Queen Elizabeth Hospital nurses prize giving in Kings Lynn, June 1984. Picture: Archant Library

Queen Elizabeth Hospital nurses prize giving in Kings Lynn, June 1984. Picture: Archant Library

Archant Library

Patients were given sherry, their medication was written on lolly sticks and if they had fluff in their belly buttons their operation could be cancelled.

Julia Saunders at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where she has worked for 34 years  Picture: QEHJulia Saunders at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where she has worked for 34 years Picture: QEH

One of Norfolk’s longest-serving nurses has seen technology revolutionise the NHS over her 34-year career.

Julia Saunders joined the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn as a student nurse on New Year’s Day, 1984. She is currently helping to mentor and support the latest generation of nurses as a practice development nurse.

Over the years she has worked in a number of departments including surgery and coronary care, seeing a vast number of changes.

“When I think about some of the things we used to do and procedures, it’s like looking back to Florence Nightingale’s day,” she said. “Technology over the last 15 years has been revolutionary in healthcare, things are quicker and we have more information.

Aerial view of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, 1980. Picture: Archant LibraryAerial view of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, 1980. Picture: Archant Library

“Nursing is a fantastic career and I really enjoy the contact and relationships you build up with patients.”

When Mrs Saunders began her career, patients were given full body shaves and dental extraction before undergoing abdominal surgery.

“When I was a student nurse, we had to give patients full body shaves to prevent infection and if they had a dirty belly button the patient would be sent back and the surgeon could cancel the operation,” she said. “Most of the time we used Bic razors and we used to have go around and make sure everyone was shaved.

“If patients had decaying teeth or bad oral hygiene, they would have to have a full dental extraction if they were having bowel surgery.

Julia Saunders at the start of her nursing career  Picture: QEHJulia Saunders at the start of her nursing career Picture: QEH

“There was a school of thought that an infection could be carried down to the gut. I did feel sorry for the patients as it must have been painful. “Thankfully things have moved on since then.”

Manual lifting was employed to turn patients who were unable to turn themselves. These days electric beds do the work.

“We were taught a range of lifts including one called the Australian lift to put patients in a sitting position,” said Mrs Saunders. “Myself and a colleague would have to place our shoulders under the patient’s armpit and we would grab each other’s hands under the patient’s thighs and lift. “This lift was eventually banned.”

Hats and dresses were a part of the uniform. Nurses were given paper hats which they would have to fold and then use a staple or a press stud to keep in the right position. Sisters used to have starch their frilly hats.

New blood pressure machine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, March 1984.Picture: Archant LibraryNew blood pressure machine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, March 1984.Picture: Archant Library

Beds were not as advanced in the 1980s and 90s. Patients could slip down or bump their heads.

Nurses would make “donkeys” from pillows wrapped in sheets and tied like Christmas crackers to act as safety padding.

Lolly sticks were another key piece of medical equipment. Mrs Saunders said: “We used to carry lolly sticks with drip rates transcribed on one side. We would use this when setting up drips and regulate the amount of medication the patient would receive. This is all done by pumps now – which is safer.”

Nurses would carry alcohol on their trollies as well as medicines.

A private ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, August 1984. Picture: Archant LibraryA private ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, August 1984. Picture: Archant Library

“We would have sherry as an aperitif for older patients who did not have much of an appetite,” said Mrs Saunders. “Half-an-hour before lunch and supper we would measure 5 or 10mls into a medicine pot depending what the patient was prescribed.

“We also had Guinness for patients who were low on iron and some patients would have 5-10mls of brandy in their hot chocolate or bedtime drink.

“The sherry and brandy were always dispensed by pharmacy in a medicine bottle to keep in the medicines trolley.

“We also used to give patients a tipple at Christmas. If you had done particularly well at the end of the week, the sister would invite you into her office for a sherry and allow you to go 15 minutes early.”

New baby ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, June 1985. Picture: Archant LibraryNew baby ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, June 1985. Picture: Archant Library

Patients with respiratory problems would be treated with a Nelson inhaler, which was a porcelain bowl with an air filter. This was filled with hot water and carried over to the patient, who would then go under a towel and inhale the steam. Mrs Saunders sometimes sees them in antique shops.

Smoking was allowed in the building when Mrs Saunders first started at the QEH. Staff and patients each had their own smoking room.

Nowadays, those wishing to do so must go outside, where a shelter has been built.

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