Western General nurses in 50-year reunion

The nurses meet for lunch at the Sheraton. Pic: Toby Williams
The nurses meet for lunch at the Sheraton. Pic: Toby Williams
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Half a century ago they were sketching the knee joint under the watchful gaze of an “authoritarian” matron, desperately trying to remember the difference between the patella and the femur.

Now, 25 nurses who began their training at the Western General Hospital in September 1966 have celebrated a 50th anniversary reunion during a special lunch at the Sheraton Hotel.

The nurses as students 50 years ago

The nurses as students 50 years ago

Lesley Barrow, who was just 17 when she joined the Preliminary Training School, said former nurses came from far and wide to take part in the day. “It was wonderful, we had people I hadn’t seen for 50 years arriving from the United States and New Zealand just to be part of the day,” she said.

“We’re all still very much the same, we all have the same sense of humour as we did back then, which was really fantastic.”

Originally, 32 prospective nurses started off on the course before later being joined by a selection of novices from the former Leith hospital as well as a few trainees from medical bases in Ireland who had arrived to learn their trade in the Capital.

The group was able to share stories and memories from their time in training, which Lesley remembers being very different from today’s standards.

“On our first day we were made to sit and do a timed drawing of the knee joint and label all the different parts of it,” she recalls.

“I hated the authoritarian rule the matron and all her minions had, we were constantly being told off for our skirts being too short or our shoes being wrong or a hair out of place.

“Some of it was warranted though; I remember one of the nurses left bottles sterilising in boiling water for too long and it almost set fire to what was then the brand new kidney unit at the hospital.

“The fire engines arrived and couldn’t get under the bridge which connects the two buildings, they had to go all the way round; luckily no-one was hurt and in a way I think it improved the hospital’s safety.”

Lesley remained at the hospital in a nursing capacity for almost 30 years and while much has changed around the hospital in that time, some aspects of the old building have remained the same.

“We trained in the old clock tower and we were told that it was going to be knocked down and a new building put in its place,” she said.

“But it’s still there, which is bizarre considering how much everything else has changed around it.

“Everything is so much more advanced now, at the Western there’s the genetic research facility, that just didn’t exist when I was nursing.”

Now 67, Lesley has been back to the Western General as a patient and believes the role nurses have in hospitals now is vastly different to hers in the 60s.

“Some of the care is excellent and some isn’t so good,” she said. “Nurses are so stretched now, we always worked hard, but they’re almost acting as junior doctors, which is why some of the quality of care has been lost.

“I’ve been in the Western as a patient and I have to say I was very impressed with the care, but I’ve also been in other hospitals where it has been sub-standard to be honest.”