Dangerous Drugs: Nursing Notes, March 1926

This month’s post comes from the 1926 volume of Nursing Notes: a drug-fuelled heritage post is on the cards this month, as we look back to 1926 and follow issues concerning the midwifery profession!

The leading article concerns the use of opium by midwives – I hasten to add that this does not refer to the personal recreational habits of midwives but to the administration of opium-based preparations for use in childbirth. Opium and it’s derivatives (including laudanum, morphine and heroine) were widely used as pain-relief before the introduction of new analgesics in the twentieth century, and often without any awareness of dosage instructions and side-effects such as addiction.

A series of Acts from 1868 sought to regulate the use of opium, and it was one of the drugs scheduled under the 1921 Dangerous Drugs Act. The Act included a clause granting certified midwives the right to possess and administer preparations containing opium as specified by the 1902 Midwives Act. This Nursing Notes article encouraged midwives to use the Act as evidence when approaching chemists for opium supplies, and also to ask their Local Authorities for appropriate training in drug administration, claiming that ‘Opium is a drug of very special value during labour.’

It is interesting to note that this subject is followed up later in this issue of the journal with the summary of a questionnaire circulated by the Midwives’ Institute to Local Authorities collating information regarding the use of drugs by midwives, breaking down the figures by region. One example is the statistic that in 10 English counties, 88 midwives were listed as using opium under Dangerous Drug regulations.

Two Annual General Meetings of the Midwives’ Institute are recorded as having taken place at the beginning of 1926, hosted by the Royal Society of Arts in London, one for members of the Institute and the other for representatives of affiliated associations. Two main issues were under discussion, although not drug-related but more concerning the provision of skilled nursing for parturient women and the formation of a Defence and Protection Service for midwives, a forerunner of the trade union role of the future Royal College of Midwives. And looking in the RCM Archive at the Council papers, it is clear to see that discussions of the Midwives’ Institute Council meetings were centred around midwives fees, antenatal care, maternal mortality and hygiene in hospitals during 1926 and 1927, all showing the concern for better working conditions for the profession and for improvements in maternity services.

Other notices include the introduction of a series of free lectures for health workers in Birmingham given by staff of the maternity hospital there, including by Dr Hilda Shufflebotham who would go on to become first female President of the RCOG some 20 years later as Dame Hilda Lloyd.

Dame Hilda Lloyd
Dame Hilda Lloyd

We end with an advertisement of a booklet issued by Nursing Notes bringing together articles on the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. Today known as the Hunterian Museum, it is as highly recommended today as it was back in the 1920s!

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