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The Nurse and Infection Control After World War Two

black and white photograph of Matron Opie, King's College HospitalMatron Evelyn Opie, King's College Hospital, 1947-1960. King's College Archives, KH/NL/PH5black and white photograph of Matron Manners, Glasgow Royal InfirmaryMatron E. G. Manners, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, c. 1948. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde ArchivesAs the most important female figurehead within the late nineteenth century hospital, the Matron or ‘Lady Superintendent’ was crucial to the effective management of infection.

She was responsible for the nurse training school, of the nursing on wards and for ensuring every aspect of surgical cleanliness in the wards and operating theatres.

Front page of<em> The Control of Cross Infection in Hospitals,</em> 1944The Control of Cross Infection in Hospitals, MRC memo, 1944. King's College Archives, KH/NL/PUB4/10page 15 of <em>The Control of Cross Infection in Hospitals</em>, 1944Page 15 of The Control of Cross Infection in Hospitals, 1944Growing outbreaks of hospital cross-infection during the 1940s and rising concerns over antibiotic resistance from the 1950s meant that the importance of the matron in tacking hospital infection increased further.

Matrons formed an important part of new committees that advised the British Government on infection and were members of new hospital committees on cross-infection alongside clinicians and bacteriologists.

At King’s College Hospital, the sister tutor and the theatre sister also attended committee meetings to ensure that concerns over nursing practice were heard.

The restructuring of hospital staff following the publication of the Salmon Report in 1966 and the centralisation of many NHS services resulted in the end of the matron as the female figurehead of hospital nursing.

While modern matrons were reintroduced into the NHS in the early twenty-first century, in part due to efforts to tackle MRSA, many former nurses remember the all-powerful and all-knowing matron of the early twentieth century with fondness. The reintroduction of this older type of matron into the hospital is often debated today.

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