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Theatre Sister Hilary Bond retired this summer after working for forty years in the Ear, Nose and Throat Department at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
Princess Alexandra visited twice during Hilary's time at the Royal Alex, During the first visit, about thirty years ago, the hospital's patron was so overcome by the sight of the pale, ill young patients on the ENT Ward that she fainted. Members of her entourage caught her and helped her to a chair, and she revived. On her second visit, Hilary shook hands with her on the steps as she came out of the hospital.
According to Hilary, children loved coming into hospital. They could play computer and other games, and they had their own televisions by their beds, provided by the hospital. Even in the time before these amenities were available they loved it, especially at Christmas time. All the children who could went home, and the porter used to dress up as Santa Claus for the children who had to remain on the ward. On Christmas Eve the nurses would wear their red-lined black uniform capes turned inside out, and go round the wards carrying lanterns. The children had stockings for small presents at the end of their beds, and they would get more presents on Christmas morning. The money for presents came from charities and parents, who would donate their own children's outgrown toys. The hospital used to receive so many that every so often they would hold a sale of excess toys, and the money would pay for presents and other hospital requirements. Other toys were sent to charities such as for Romanian Orphans.
Hilary recalls that for a time the nurses' uniforms were dropped – it was thought that they frightened the children! The children used to love the nurses' hats – they used to ask one to play with, but the hats were the first thing to go, so the nurses made paper replicas for the children to play with. Then the uniforms went, and the nurses wore trousers or skirts, as they preferred, and polo shirts. Each ward could choose their own colour. The trouble was, in a ward full of visitors and children and nurses, and you couldn't tell who was who, so this year the nurses decided to go back into uniform. The hats won't be brought back though.
Matrons were also dropped for a time, but have been brought back on the wards. However, Hilary says it's not the same as having one Matron in charge of the whole hospital – they don't have the same respect any more. In the past the matron used to have a maid. On the nurses' day off, the maid would would bring them breakfast in bed, or if they were on a late shift, she would bring them a cup of tea in bed.
When Hilary was taking time out from work to look after small children, the hospital twice had to ask her to come in to work, once during a flu epidemic, and another time when the nurses couldn't get to work because of heavy snow. Matron's maid went to Hilary's house to look after her children on both occasions.
Children who need scans or X-rays have to go to the RSCH in ambulances, accompanied by nurses. They also have to go to the RSCH for some operations at night. In the past they had to be brought back to the RAH afterwards by ambulance, which is not very nice for sick children. The RSCH later employed a couple of nurses trained to work with children, so that they didn't have to be transported back in the middle of the night.
When operations are performed in the RAH in the middle of the night, a surgeon and anaesthetist have to come over from the RSCH. RAH has a children's consultant on call every day and night for anything simple, like a hernia, but a Senior Registrar from the RSCH has to come over in case of unusual or serious operations.
The situation is worse in the winter. When tonsillectomies are performed, the children have a sample of their own blood taken so that if they bleed within 14 days after the operation, they can have a transfusion. The sample has to be taken over to the RSCH and stored there for two weeks, and then if a transfusion is necessary, blood as to be brought from the RSCH along the icy roads in ambulances. The worst problem is the traffic, especially during the rush hour, and especially on Fridays.
The RAH waited years for its own Intensive Care Unit and doctors. Unfortunately they can't use it to full capacity because they can't get the staff, and so consequently the equipment is not updated and upgraded as necessary, so major surgery is no longer performed at the RAH. In the past, after operations nurses just used to look at the patients, take their pulse and check to see they were still breathing and monitor their general state in this way, but now patients have to have so many monitoring machines connected up to them.
Fortunately a lot of surgery which used to be performed at the RAH, such as for spina bifida and brain surgery eg in case of hydrocephalus, is no longer necessary thanks to prenatal screening.
Until 15 years ago there was only one paediatric consultant on call day and night at the RAH. Thy had to use doctors from the RSCH who hadn't been trained to work with children to alternate with him because he couldn't do every single night and day – he was a very dedicated man who had to retire early, worn out. Now the RAH has a team of highly qualified consultants of various nationalities.
For the past few years, children's hospitals have not been getting properly trained children's trained nurses, because the government in its wisdom that NHS didn't need specially trained children's nurses. They later realised this was a mistake and brought them back. Now the NHS Charter says all children should have specially trained children's staff.
Hilary is hoping to be invited to the opening of the new children's hospital at the RSCH in 2007. She says that although the Royal Alex is certainly a popular hospital, if it had been realised how difficult working conditions were in some respects, the move would have happened a long time ago. Like many local people she thinks the RAH building should be listed.