Nurse pay is never far from the headlines in the nursing press and the same was true in the autumn of 1948, when debate centred on setting salary scales in the NHS, which was just a few months old.
In her lead article in the 6 November issue of that year, then Nursing Times editor Marjorie Wenger highlighted that the nursing profession held a “key position” in the fledgling NHS. Nurses were, therefore, also in a position to take an “active and constructive part” in setting salaries, she suggested in her piece, which was fittingly titled ‘A mark of recognition’.
Sticking with that headline theme, she added that nurses must be able to feel that the contribution they could make to the NHS received the recognition it deserved.
“Recognition means awareness, appreciation, the public acceptance of professional status and a financial situation compatible with professional dignity,” she said. And, in a statement that surely rings just as true now as it did then, she said: “Salaries are a concrete expression of recognition.”
At the time, Ms Wenger noted that the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) was in the process of building proposals for salary requirements for staff nurses and ward sisters. It had previously done the same for students. Based on the evidence gathered from its local branches, the RCN suggested that a starting salary for a newly qualified staff nurse should be £260, rising by £15 a year up to a maximum of £320. In today’s money, this would represent a starting salary of around £12,000, rising by £700 per annum to a cap of £15,000. Likewise, a newly promoted ward sister would start at £310 and rise by £20 up to a level of £430. Again, in today’s money, this would be roughly £14,400, rising by £930 to £20,000.
However, Ms Wenger highlighted that the issue of salary setting was affected by the tradition of providing emoluments for nurses that served to counterbalance the generally low level of their wages. Common examples of emoluments might have included board and lodging in hospital nursing homes, laundry, uniforms and healthcare.
Ms Wenger noted that, however, with changing societal trends, some nurses preferred to have more take-home pay and fewer emoluments, while others did not – this tended to depend on their personal situation.
Another important development was reported in the issue, namely that a copy of Nursing Times had had a part in a play about Edith Cavell, which was televised on Sunday 7 November 1948 at 8pm. Edith is celebrated for treating wounded soldiers from both sides during the First World War and for helping some 200 Allied soldiers to escape from occupied Belgium – an act for which she was shot by the Germans.
As a result of a request from the BBC, a copy of Nursing Times dating from 1916 featured in the play Nurse Cavell, which starred a well-known actress of the time, Nancy Price, in the title role. Having already played the part on stage, she told Nursing Times that, during the televised version, she would be holding the very prayer book that Edith had with her in prison, following her arrest.
Ms Price, who was also an author and theatre director, said there were entries in the prayer book in Edith’s own handwriting, including one that simply stated: “Arrested, Tried, Shot, Died.” She also claimed to have previously been given the actual collars and cuffs from the nurse uniform Edith was wearing when she was executed by firing squad.
“I wore them in the stage play – they had nurse Cavell’s name on them. Then someone stole them,” she told a Nursing Times reporter.
In addition, the issue included a report on public health nursing in Denmark, by Beatrice Langton, and a piece on a Red Cross scheme in the US that was teaching expectant fathers “parentcraft”.
Meanwhile, the Films in Brief section included a review of Bonnie Prince Charlie, starring David Niven and Jack Hawkins. The reviewer described the film as “well acted” but “unconvincing”. However, they noted sympathy for the historical character Flora MacDonald, who had to “scramble through heather and over boulders hampered by the voluminous skirts of the period”. Flora MacDonald is best known for helping Prince Charles Edward Stuart – aka Bonnie Prince Charlie – to evade government troops after the Battle of Culloden in April 1746.
To view the Nursing Times Archive, visit: nursingtimes.net/digital-archive
Step back in time with the Nursing Times Archive
Nursing Times has launched an online archive of its print issues, meaning subscribers can now dip into the history of nursing at the touch of a button.
Readers can discover how nursing has changed over the decades with each issue containing stories, features and even adverts offering a fascinating insight into the profession and much more.
The Nursing Times Archive is an exciting new addition to our brand and a great resource that can be accessed directly from the Nursing Times website.
The archive represents over a 100 years of nursing history, starting with the first print issue of Nursing Times published on 6 May 1905.
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