Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Rushcliffe - Thora Silverthorne view



NURSES who tried 'vainly In the years of peace to secure reasonable conditions of service, will soon receive a new charter at the hands of a committee presided over by Lord Rushcliffe.

Nurses are now so important a factor in Britain's war economy that I anticipate many of them will be surprised at the far-reaching reforms (which the committee will propose.

Since war broke out the nation has been paying for its failure to provide conditions for nurses, consistent with their contribution to the community. In peace there was a grave shortage of girls willing to accept the hard conditions of a nurse's life. In war, with the greater demands in the hospitals, the shortage has been more acute.

Perhaps, the most damning fact of all has been that. Owing to the absence of agreed conditions of service, Mr. Ernest Bevin, (Minister) who is able to conscript girls for other forms of war work, has been unable to issue regulations to deal with the nurses.

Ten Years Delay

No one can say that the danger of a serious nursing shortage was not known. Ten years ago .a committee set up by The Lancet made a series of proposals tor making nursing more attractive. But nothing was done.

In 1938, an inter-departmental committee set up from the various Government Departments concerned made similar proposals, designed to provide reasonable standards of salary, and to abolish some of the Victorian, restrictions still imposed by many hospitals.

Again, nothing was done

I returned from service with the Spanish Republican Army (Matron in the international Brigade), I tried to organise A Nurses Trade union (National Association of Nurses)- I believed then, as I believe now, that the problem will not finally be solved until nurses organise on a trade union basis in the same way journalists, architects and other professional workers. We considerable progress, and in a number of hospitals where we secured strong membership important concessions were quickly secured.

Shortly afterwards the trades Union Congress issued its Nurses Charter and since we had no intention or desire to compete with existing Trade Union organi-

sations (NUPE) , we merged our association in one of the Unions which sought to organise the nurses.

But the Trade Union Movement has still failed to solve the problem. There are six Trade Unions Inside the T.U.C. and one out- side, all competing for nurses. If they would only get together and agree on a single organisation, appealing to the professional pride as well as the economic needs of the nurses, I believe the problem could be solved.

The Rushcliffe Committee will do a great deal for the nurses, but no section of the workers can afford to rely only on State action. The nurses need their own organisation which can represent them in negotiations and can

guard their interests at all times.

I should like to see the Rushcliffe recommendations as the starting point, to be followed by a country-wide Trade Union campaign to convince the nurses that they must act themselves if they are to secure and retain decent conditions. Such a campaign would also seek to show them that in this way they could make an even greater contribution to the war effort. .

The action of two London hospitals in establishing Joint Consultative Committees in which nurses as well as other sections of the staff are represented could be followed nationally it the nurses were organised.,

Cheap Labour

I hope the Rushcliffe Committee will realise that nurses, in the year 1943, cannot be treated like the young Victorian-women of Florence Nightingale's day. Some of the restrictions on nurses are just too silly for words, particularly when one realises that girls in war Industry and the Services are bearing a very consider able part of the war effort

It is to be wondered at that girls fight shy of nursing when they are not allowed to be out after eleven o'clock, when fully trained nurses, are not allowed to live out, when all sorts of restrictions are imposed on their private lives' Which no employer in any other profession would dare to suggest?

The nurses also have a right to demand proper facilities for training. It is absurd that girls should be expected to attend lectures after long hours' on the wards. Girls who have worked all night cannot absorb highly technical instruction at lectures at eleven in the morning. Yet that is the practice in a number of hospitals.

The training of doctors is strictly supervised. That of nurses is completely haphazard. The General Nursing Council, which Is" responsible for the nurses' training schools, should also have the duty of seeing that the schools give-adequate instruction. At present, the blunt truth is that the hospitals are securing cheap labour from the probationer nurses and giving instruction as, an after thought.

Can be Done

The immediate reforms for the nurses should Include a 96-hour fortnight, with payment for overtime option for all girls to live out arrangements for the nurses' homes to be run on hostel lines; recognition of the right to organise and to hold Trade Union meetings; and abolition of unnecessary restrictions on personal liberty.

To those who say it cannot be done, I would say that for one section of the nursing profession it has been done. Mr. George Gibson (General Secretary of the Mental Health & Institutional Workers Union) has built up an organisation for the workers in the mental hospitals, which has secured conditions That superior to those of the nurses in the general hospitals. What is more important to the nation at the" present time, the members of his Union have been able to play a more effective part in the war effort.


Chair of the Association of Nurses was Nancy Zinkin

article from probably News Chronicle 1943