Sunday, 30 November 2008

Difficulties with Recruitment 1903

When QAIMNS was formed in 1902, many of the staff and conditions of service were carried over from the old Army Nursing Service. At the same time, it was planned that the new Service would be an elite, forward-thinking one which would be the envy of civil hospitals and aspired to by many nurses. However, when the Nursing Board met in September 1903, it was to discuss the failure of their recruitment process to supply adequate numbers of nurses of the right calibre. The following abridged notes are taken from the minutes of that meeting, and set out some of the perceived reasons for the problems [The National Archives, WO243/20].

'The Nursing Board are face to face with the position that they cannot get nurses to join the Q.A.I.M.N.S... The terms of the service have been circulated amongst the civil hospitals, and there is but one opinion, that the terms offered are inadequate.
The Nursing Board must either be empowered to offer better terms, or the military service must be the dustheap into which is shot those nurses from civil hospitals whom the civil matrons do not want to keep, or female nursing of soldiers must be abandoned.
The Nursing Board want to attract into military nursing, firstly, the really good nurse, women who would assuredly succeed in civil nursing, and not the failures, who are many in number; secondly, women of good social position - very important.'

'When a young woman of 28 has finished her training at a civil hospital she looks round and decides what her future is to be, whether she will stay in hospital work, or, whether she will take up private nursing. In the former case, if at all good, she is quite certain of getting almost at once to be a sister, and from that position to gain, as she feels sure she will, a salary of £60 to £100... She then sees before her a matronship, perhaps first of a cottage hospital, with six to ten beds, and then of a larger hospitals, with a salary of £150, £300 and even £400...
If she stays in her civil hospital promotion is rapid. Few people realize how rapid...
But in the military service the promotion will be, and always has been, very slow. In civil work there are many openings for obtaining a better position and salary, in military nursing very few. Another reason why promotion must be slow in military nursing is that once having been in it for any length of time a nurse, never mind what her position, is absolutely debarred from any nursing appointment outside the Service. No matron of a civil hospital would take into her hospital a nurse who has been in a military hospital - a nurse who has had no experience in the nursing of women and children or of old people. It is a specialized service. So equally no committee would ever appoint as matron of a civil hospital a nurse from a military hospital; she would not have been in close touch with all the modern improvements which every year take place in the big civil hospitals. Thus all outlets are closed to women in the military service ... and the result is that "once in, always in" must be the state of affairs for any woman taking up military nursing. To sum up, if a nurse stays in military nursing she unquestionably loses her nursing pecuniary value. Her capital, so to speak, is depreciated.'

The Nursing Board solution to these problems was to offer a new, increased salary and pension scale which still did not look particularly attractive alongside the civil hospital scales that they had just set out. I find it interesting to reflect on the "once in, always in" comment, and the depressing view that on leaving the service, these well-trained and educated women would be found useless in civil nursing. Neither have the Board extolled the virtues of the Service, particularly the opportunities of overseas travel, and a certain security in their everyday life. I'm sure that many 'leavers' went on to have productive and rewarding careers after leaving military nursing, but these notes do provide an interesting angle on QAIMNS and its perceived 'elite' status.

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