Life as an RN in UK in the early 90's

by madwife2002 Asst. Admin

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I returned to the hospital where I trained and where I felt comfortable, quickly I was working 5 days a week. No such thing as 12 hour shifts in those days your week consisted of earlies, lates and half days. If you were lucky you would get your half day before your days off. If you were not so lucky you hoped you would get an early before your day off and a late after your days off.

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    Life as an RN in UK in the early 90's

    So after my terrible night in a nursing home and my 2 weeks of trying to look like I knew what I was doing on a GI floor. I decided I would join the hospital nurse Bank as they were called in those days which equates to float nurse.

    I returned to the hospital where I trained and where I felt comfortable, quickly I was working 5 days a week. No such thing as 12 hour shifts in those days your week consisted of earlies, lates and half days. If you were lucky you would get your half day before your days off. If you were not so lucky you hoped you would get an early before your day off and a late after your days off.

    As a bank nurse you turned up for work and were sent anywhere in the hospital to work except Maternity, in the UK you can only work on a maternity floor if you are a Midwife.

    We worked 7.30-16.30 and 12.30-21.30, night shift was 21.15-0730. We didnt clock in you just turned up for work and were paid! You went on break after the afternoon shift arrived and recieved report.

    Everybody from the morning shift went on break together. In those days if you were a smoker you actually had a section of the cafeteria where you could sit in comfy chairs and smoke! A lot of health care professionals smoked in those days and openly.

    So what did we wear to work? In the UK at that time nurses all wore the same (apart from the male nurses of course) We wore royal blue dresses with belts and special silver buckles which you bought when you 'qualified' as a RN or RGN as we were called (Registered General Nurses). If you were higher up the food chain you wore Navy Blue dresses. If you were a SEN (State Enrolled Nurse) you wore green.

    Black lace up shoes with non slip soles. Tights or stockings which could be black or flesh colored depending on what the hospital policy stated.

    I have to say in the UK when I left 6 years ago we still wore black lace up shoes, I had never worn sneakers to work until I came to the US. I still prefer the shoes LOL

    All hair if it touched your collar had to be tied up-no exceptions. It still gets on my last nerve when any healthcare professional has long flowing locks, which drape into everything.

    Later on in the 90's we all changed to Tunics and Trousers which were far more practical. The color code didn't change so it was easy to identify who was who!

    Everybody wore navy blue trousers and the tunics were royal blue for staff nurses and navy blue for Managers.

    We had 7 weeks paid vacation per year and 6 months full pay for sickness and 6 months half pay. After this time you were unpaid but not terminated!

    You called the Charge Nurse 'Sister' there wasn't a lot of male nurses around in those days. We had junior sisters and senior sisters. They were the font of all knowledge, they didn't do a lot of work but they knew everything they amazed me.

    There appeared a lot more hierarchy in those days and a very defined career structure.

    The charge nurse of the day would do the rounds for all the patients, then report to the RN's what needed doing for the patient. We wrote everything in a 'round book' which was like the holy grail to all nurses.

    The routine for the day was very defined you would do the morning drugs after report, all vital signs were done by student nurses and reported back immediately.

    Pts were given breakfast then everybody was given without exception either a bowl with everything they needed for a wash, or a full bed-bath. Every male pt was shaven.

    Beds were made and pts sat out beside their beds by 11 am!

    If you worked on a surgical ward pts who were to go to the OR were given a hibiscrub bath and shaven in the area of surgery if required, then they were given a hospital gown to wear.

    In the UK you wear your own pj's or night dresses in hospital, only the pts who have nobody to bring in clean night clothes in for them, wear hospital gowns. There were washing machines in the sluice room on some floors so you would wash dirty clothes if you needed to. You never put soiled clothes in a plastic bag for the relatives to take home, you would scrub them through!

    When I came to the US I thought everybody was either poor so couldn't afford night clothes or they were all without family and friends to provide clean night wear!

    None of these mundane tasks were left to the late staff, the ward had to be ship shape before they came on duty!

    After lunch pts were allowed back into bed to sleep or rest and the ward was quiet and peaceful. The doors to the ward were closed.

    There were strict visiting hours, which were in the afternoon. Normally 14.00-1600 then an evening time of 18.30-20.00

    Visitors waited in the corridor for the doors to open then they would visit their loved ones! At end of visiting time somebody would ring a bell to announce end of visiting times and everybody would be expected to leave!

    There were few exceptions to these rules and the charge nurse of the shift would decide if the pt could be disturbed.

    It was great for the RN's you could get so much work done when you don't have pestering visitors. The patients also got a lot of rest which was undisturbed by the visitors.

    We didn't have TV's by pt's beds instead you had a TV lounge for the patients. Pts would meet in the TV lounge-Lifelong relationships and friendships were formed.

    Pts staying in hospitals a lot longer as well in those days.

    • At least a week for an appendix removal!
    • 2 weeks for Gall Bladder
    • 3-4 days for a Tonsillectomy
    • 5 days following a normal birth, longer if needed
    • C/S 10 days

    Nearly every pt when leaving the floor would buy a huge box of chocolates for the nursing staff, I never knew a time when there wasn't chocolates or cookies to eat. We would moan and complain we were sick of some of the type of chocolates, because the pts would get us the same large tins. If we got something different we would be like pigs raiding the tin.

    Sometimes we would get so many, they would be locked away until Christmas.

    Some of the patients or relatives would donate money to the floor for the staff Christmas party, and even donate large bottles of alcohol!

    When I came to the US I was surprised that the boxes of cookies or chocolates were few and far between.

    Now if your reading this and thinking OMG this is back when Florence Nightingale was a young woman-No we are talking the 1990's!
    Last edit by Joe V on Nov 7, '11
    Broadway404, sj73201, sharpeimom, and 17 others like this.
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    madwife2002 joined Jan '05 - from 'Ohio'. madwife2002 has '24' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'RN, RM, BSN'. Posts: 9,277 Likes: 4,982; Learn more about madwife2002 by visiting their allnursesPage


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    13 Comments so far...

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    A lot of that is so familiar - and though I'd noticed many of the changes I have to admit the drop in choccy supply passed me by, but you're so right!

    That said, some of those things are still the case where I work: shifts (0700-1530, 1300-2130, 2100-0730), AM/PM handover's followed by an inservice and all the AMs and then all the PMs go to tea, there's no clocking on, and we get 6 weeks annual leave a year (the national standard's four). Sick leave accrues but is 15-21 days per year depending on length of service - it's portable within the piblic system and despite two unrelated periods of 6 wqeeks off for hand fractures, and the month I've just had off with pneumonia, I've still got 30 weeks up my sleeve at full pay (less penalties but with qualification allowance).

    I really miss visiting hours, but the worst thing is the speed with which women are discharged post delivery.
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    I am of fan of the author Betty Neels who wrote so many books that describe the lives of nurses in the UK. It was sweet to read the descriptions that were written here; I feel that I am on familiar territory!

    What a different style of healthcare!

    BTW - - when I was in the hospital recently, I insisted on wearing my own clothes, and didn't get as hard a time as I expected. Much more comfortable than a gown, for sure!
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    I used to encourage my patients to wear their own clothes, where appropriate - it not only helps create a mindset of recuperation rathe than illness but rebalances the power a little. Lying in bed, clad only in a skimpy gown with no underwear or shoes (shoes make a massive difference!), surrounded by important, upright, clothed and shod professionals using jargon and talking to each other rather than you is massively disempowering.

    Unfortunately our patients have become so acute fewer than 15% most days are appropriate to dress in street clothes - they're either too incapacitated, incontinent, hooked up to lines or likely to be whisked off for tests, or just plain sick
    sj73201 likes this.
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    Quote from merlee
    I am of fan of the author Betty Neels who wrote so many books that describe the lives of nurses in the UK. It was sweet to read the descriptions that were written here; I feel that I am on familiar territory!

    What a different style of healthcare!

    BTW - - when I was in the hospital recently, I insisted on wearing my own clothes, and didn't get as hard a time as I expected. Much more comfortable than a gown, for sure!




    OMG I swear I have all of Betty's books.I love them.
  9. 1
    WOW. We definately need 6 weeks paid vacation here.
    eslvn likes this.
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    "I have to say in the UK when I left 6 years ago we still wore black lace up shoes, I had never worn sneakers to work until I came to the US. I still prefer the shoes LOL

    All hair if it touched your collar had to be tied up-no exceptions. It still gets on my last nerve when any healthcare professional has long flowing locks, which drape into everything."


    I agree ten times over! Can't stand the scuzzy white sneakers and sweaty hair to be seen everywhere. How can you do wound care or a proper assessment if you have to worry about your hair?

    A wonderful article. Some parts of it are still true. While working in the UK I lived in awe of my ward's sister, who really did seem to know absolutely everything. I learned how to do proper hospital corners (no fitted sheets to be found in that hospital!), place the pillows so the open end of the pillow case faces away from the door (looks much tidier), and if at all possible have the patients washed and sitting out in a tidy clean room by 11:00. Some people may this overly regimented or unnecessary, but when you are miserable and just want to lie in bed I think this small act can give a patient a sense of accomplishment and well-being.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!
    Broadway404, Fiona59, and madwife2002 like this.
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    My patients' beds certainly looked tidier then than they do now

    Expat, I heard recently that the reason we old school nurses were taught to have the opening of the pillowcases away from the door was because during the Crimean War dust would blow in to them through open tent flaps. Apparently FLorence passed it on to the nurses she trained and over time it became an aesthetic rather than the hygeine measure it started out as!
    Fiona59, Libitina, ExpatHopeful, and 2 others like this.
  12. 1
    Thanks for that. Brought back some brilliant memories, I still have my silver belt buckle...it was in the shape of a giant safety pin! Still remember wearing hats and a cape! I do prefer being a nurse in the USA now though...we have more of a chance for a career, especially when I hear some of the things about the NHS these days. I am so grateful to ahve been trained in an era where we had proper guidance and high standards.
    madwife2002 likes this.
  13. 0
    Not a great deal has changed tbh.


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