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From Microbes to Matrons

Pre-Packed Dressings

Until the widespread use of pre-packed dressings, the preparation of dressings was an important part of daily nursing work in hospitals across Britain. According to Barbara McCrorie, who trained at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary during WWII, the majority of dressings were prepared overnight.

‘Oh yes, pull out the gauze and cut it up, and that sort of thing.’

Joen MacFarlane remembered.

Mary McAllan started at the Infirmary in 1943. She recalled:

‘Oh yes, the night nurses made [the dressings]. You rolled your own bandages, and your sisters had peculiarities about what kind they liked…. We had cupboards full of these…. And you filled your drums every night, they went down to be sterilized.’

Ena Ross, who began training at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in 1945 before later becoming Ward Sister, recalled that dressings were sterilized in the theatre autoclaves.

colour photograph of Johnson & Johnson pre-packed oiled silk dressings, c. 1950A pack containing pre-prepared oiled silk dressings, Johnson & Johnson, c. 1950. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of GlasgowOver time, the use of pre-sterilized, pre-prepared dressings, available in pack form, became the norm. Their introduction to hospitals in the 1950s and thereafter led to a reconfiguration of nursing work as the preparation of dressings gradually ceased to be a nursing duty.

Hospitals with centralised facilities for sterile supply would have stored the dressings packs there prior to issue to the wards. Around 1959 Glasgow started using the sterile packs, which they obtained from companies like Johnson & Johnson.

While nurses no longer had to sterilize dressings, they now had to adapt to using the disposable packs. These packs often included the forceps required to apply the dressings.

Joan Bell, who started training in Glasgow in 1963, remembered that during dressings changes, soiled dressings were typically disposed of in a clinical waste bag. Hospitals continue to use sterile dressings packs today.

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