Fairfield’s ‘national treasure’ Irena has 50 years NHS service

Irena Grindrod web
Fairfield’s ‘national treasure’ Irena has 50 years NHS service
09 July 2018

IRENA Grindrod, a Bed Manager from Fairfield General Hospital in Bury, is celebrating 50 years of NHS service as the NHS turns 70 years old – it’s no wonder her colleagues refer to her as a ‘national treasure.’

Irena is currently a Bed Manager at Fairfield General Hospital, and has worked in the NHS for all but 17 years of its 70 year history. She was born in Wales to Polish parents and didn’t learn to speak English until she was 11 as her parents intended to move back to Poland, but when it became obvious that wasn’t possible the family moved to Bury.

She left St Gabriel’s High School with no qualifications, became a cadet then a student nurse, and started her training at 18 at the Bury and Rossendale School of Nursing, attached to Bury General Hospital, in 1965. 

Irena applied for the SEN course, but after an interview and an examination, the Matron convinced Irena she’d be better suited to SRN, which was more academic and a three year course rather than two years.

Irena said:

“I enjoyed my training, living with student nurses full time and working on the wards. However, on one hot summer’s day I was given a lecture by Matron for going into Bury in my nurse’s uniform and eating an ice cream on the street.”

Irena achieved her SRN qualification despite oversleeping on the day of one of the exams and getting engaged a fortnight before her finals, which also got her a telling off from her tutor. From her cohort of 32 on the Preliminary Training School at Bury General, only four went on to qualify as others left the course, or were put back due to illness, failing exams, or in some cases getting married. 

She started working at Bury General full time, and in the satellite hospitals which made up the local area’s hospital services, including Beeley’s, Ramsbottom’s Aitken Hospital and the Florence Nightingale Unit. 

Irena said:

“I have seen many changes over the years, mostly for the best. The nursing I was taught was good for its time, but from the 1960s onwards the pace of change quickly increased. Then things were done because they had always been done that way, almost ritualistically, but increasingly nursing became the product of research into what really worked and why, and the standard of nursing has improved hugely over my time in the NHS.

“The speed of nursing has increased too. Back then we nursed at a much slower pace. In those days appendicectomy patients were in hospital for seven days, nowadays they’re home within 24 hours.  After a heart attack a patient was on bed rest for ten days, whereas now they’re mobilising within a day, and a hip replacement patient also used to be nursed in hospital for 10 days, whereas the research has shown that patients make faster and better recoveries when they are at home so they are now discharged in around two days.” 

Irena says that one huge change is that during training student nurses now go to university and spend some time on the wards for experience, whereas 50 years ago the student nurses were the workforce of the hospital, working full time on the wards as well as studying for their examinations.

Irena said:

“There have also been changes in monitoring and inspection, which used to be done internally. Nurses who trained under the ‘old system’ had a strong work ethic and dedication to excellence, which we would do well to emulate today.”

Another significant shift Irena has witnessed over the years is the move from reusable equipment to single-use supplies in the cause of infection control. She says nurses used to regularly use sterilisers on the ward, glass syringes and mercury thermometers and other equipment, which young nurses today would hardly recognise. 

In 1971 Irena recalls that she went on a management course, during which she attended a lecture about computers. The attendees were told that in their lifetimes computers would revolutionise patient care.

Irena said:

“I doubted how nurses could ever use computers, possibly as neither they nor the lecturer had ever seen one before. I never thought that electronic patient records and automated observations would become the norm, or that in a relatively short time consultants would be able to see their patients’ x-ray results online before the patients even arrived back on the ward.”

Irena thinks that nurses become nurses because they love the job, and that all nurses have good days and bad days.

She said:

“There are days when you go home and don’t want to ever come back, but then something happens and you think ‘yes, that’s why I nurse, because I can make a difference.’  And you don’t make a difference every day, but when you do it’s worth everything.”

Pictured: Irena Grindrod, Bed Manager from Fairfield General Hospital in Bury