King's in 1948 - three former nurses tell their stories

04 July 2018 - Three nurses who worked at King's in 1948 talk about the start of the NHS.

Eileen Balding

Three retired nurses have described their experiences of working at King’s at the birth of the NHS in 1948.

Maureen Rodger, 88, started working for King’s in October 1948 – just three months after the NHS came into being.

She said that following the war, rationing was still in force so nurses had to survive on much less food and often went hungry. “We had rationing since the war, so we were all used to it,” she said. “We just got on with it. But I remember the shifts being really long – we used to have to do a lot of nights: it was 11 nights on and then three off.”
Maureen said that when she recently returned to Princess Elizabeth Ward, where she often used to work, the staff were all keen to hear how things have changed.

“The ward looked completely different when I worked there,” she said. “There were a lot more beds, rather than separate rooms. The nurses’ station was in the middle. I remember the starched collars on the uniform cut into our necks so they were quite uncomfortable, although we were proud of the uniforms. They are much more comfortable now, but I don't like them as much!”

Eileen Balding, 87, pictured, started her training at King’s 13 days after the NHS began on 5 July 1948.

“I was very happy to be working there,” said Eileen. “I was at King’s for 14 or 15 years before I had children.

“Even after I got married I carried on working, which was quite unusual back then.”
When Eileen and her husband moved to Bromley she switched to Bromley Hospital, which later became the Princess Royal University Hospital – in total she worked in the NHS for 38 years.

She added: “When I started it was a lot of manual labour, like making beds - I remember we had to learn how to make what we called King’s corners.

“There were a lot of bed pans to empty - we worked long hours, we were always busy, but it was a very happy hospital. We had more wards that were a mixture of patients than they do nowadays.”

Sheila Stephens, 90, started her training at King’s in 1946, before qualifying in 1950.
She recalls that the just after the war hospital equipment was in short supply. “We had to be really careful when it came to using cotton wool and bandages. We had to make our own swabs. Food was also rationed but we just had to do our duty and be disciplined.

“When the NHS started I don’t recall that there was that much difference for us when the NHS came along. The structure of how the hospital was organised changed, but the work for the nurses wasn’t any different. I do remember that when I first started there was a big board up saying how much debt the hospital had. Then when the NHS started the board disappeared and we weren’t in debt anymore – back then the hospital wasn’t responsible for its own finances so all the debt disappeared.”