Tuesday, 6 March 2007

The Difference Between...

Having written about the WO399 run of files at The National Archives, it's worth mentioning that included among them are some records relating to untrained nurses; VADs, Special Probationers and Assistant Nurses who worked in military hospitals [rather than Red Cross hospitals] during the war. Why some files have been retained isn't clear, but all those that I've come across refer to women who were employed in Territorial General Hospitals in the United Kingdom - some of them later went on to work abroad, but most started off serving alongside the Territorial Force Nursing Service. So although a long shot, it's always worth checking for an untrained nurse in the WO399 index at The National Archives. The 'VAD' is familiar, but what were the differences between her, and the less common Special Military Probationer [SMP] and the 'Assistant Nurse'?

VADs were employed by the British Red Cross Society through their headquarters at Devonshire House, and the majority worked in Red Cross and auxiliary hospitals, but if employed in British military hospitals at home or abroad, they would work under the control of the War Office, and take their day to day orders from the Matron of their hospital or her deputies.

Special Military Probationers were also untrained, and the terms and conditions of their contracts were virtually identical to those of the VAD. But they were employed by the War Office specifically to work in military hospitals, and had no connection with the BRCS. There is some evidence to suggest that the War Office did some 'cherry picking' - during the 3 month initial training undertaken by VADs in civil hospitals from 1915 onwards, some of the most able were offered contracts as SMPs, and the result was the perception that these 'War Probationers' formed a more elite group than the VADs. In fact, except for the difference in employers, their contracts and conditions of service were identical, but there always remained the inference that those employed by the War Office were superior as nurses.

As the need for trained nurses grew during the war, shortages began to cause great difficulties, particularly overseas, where the need for skilled nurses in forward areas resulted in Base hospitals becoming top heavy with VADs, and seriously lacking in experienced women. The grade of 'Assistant Nurse' became increasingly common, and these were women who had previously undertaken formal nurse training, but not to a standard sufficient to join Queen Alexandra's Imperial Nursing Service Reserve or the Territorial Force Nursing Service. They were women who had completed a set training as a fever nurse, a children's nurse, in a women's hospital, or as a midwife. Their pay fell half way between that of the VAD and the trained Staff Nurse, and they were likely to be given more responsibility in line with their training and experience.

As the war progressed, there were certainly VADs who became very skilled nurses and took on great responsibility. Many had hopes that their wartime work would qualify them for a reduced training as a nurse after the war, and that was a question that caused great unrest and discussion within the nursing profession. And was definitely not to be...

No comments:

Post a Comment