A time of mourning: Nursing Notes, October 1979

This month’s post comes from the October issue of the 1979 volume of ‘Midwives Chronicle & Nursing Notes.’

The autumn of 1979 found the Royal College of Midwives in shock and mourning, following the deaths of Miss Brenda Mee OBE, General Secretary from 1971, and her personal assistant Hazel Allen during a camping holiday in the Welsh mountains near Llanberis. Miss Mee had enthusiastically attended the RCM Annual Conference in Glasgow just prior to her holiday in August 1979 and it is believed that the pair had been near the top of Mount Snowdon when they both fell to their deaths.

Brenda Mee was a popular figure at the College, and had come into office at a difficult time for the RCM, with the recent passing of the Industrial Relations Act which changed the constitution of the College as well as the reorganisation of the National Health Service during the early 1970s. A full biography of Miss Mee is included in this tribute issue of the Midwives Chronicle, as well as personal tributes and remembrances: she is described as ‘a rare person with a winsome personality [and] a sparkling sense of humour’, possessor of ‘such an infectious laugh’. As well as General Secretary of the RCM, Brenda Mee was an active member of the Executive Committee of the International Confederation of Midwives, and was also secretary of the Permanent Committee of Midwives of the EEC. Her career was recognised in 1978 when she received the OBE from the Queen, and her certificate can be found in the RCM Archive (Reference RCMS/111). RCM PH2

Among those who sent in tributes were the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who said ‘Brenda Mee was recognised by this College as the most efficient, compassionate and totally dedicated representative of the best interests of midwifery and all who practise it. She will be an immense loss to this College as well as to yours.’ Another tribute from somebody from the British Medical Association simply said ‘There must be very great sadness throughout the house behind the friendly Blue Door….’

Another topic covered by this issue of the journal, was the Standing Commission on Nurses and Midwives Pay Comparability, to which the RCM had submitted evidence. Details of the evidence from the College are listed in the journal, and cover the position of the midwife in the NHS, salary position and conditions of service, midwives’ position in regard to industrial action, the midwife’s role in hospital and community, and training and qualifications, providing a very interesting snapshot of midwifery in the late 1970s. Minimum educational requirements had been recently raised to five O-levels, and in Scotland, only registered nurses were accepted for midwifery training, while in England the majority of pupil midwives were registered nurses. The raising of the minimum education standard had drastically reduced the number of enrolled nurse entrants to midwifery training, but this did not alter the commitment to better standards of training and qualification, and today although there is no national minimum education requirements, entrance to degree nursing and midwifery course require qualifications of at least five GCSE’s and two A-levels.

A short item of interest is an article which brought news of the introduction of halal food in the Mother’s Hospital in Hackney, East London. This new initiative included a range of meals prepared according to strict Moslem requirements and was a response to the problem of Moslem mothers eating little food in hospital due to not being able to bring their own food. The meals included a choice of mutton and chicken curry and seven vegetable dishes ‘including sour spinach with lentils’. Leaflets prepared in Asian and Turkish languages were used to promote the service.

Other items in this issue of the journal include an entry form for the competition to name the RCM centenary rose, and the second in a series of articles by Mary Toase, RCM Librarian, giving advice on literature searches, including the writing of references, filing information, and a list of statistical sources to be found in the RCM Library. Today’s midwives can get a similar service from their very own Mary, the RCM Librarian who can advise on literature searches and texts, although now many of them are in e-books and e-journals!

Penny Hutchins, RCOG/RCM Archivist

Photograph copyright of the Royal College of Midwives

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