Former Falkirk midwife, 79, reflects on 42-year NHS career

Jean Fowler spent more than four decades working as a midwife in the NHS
Jean Fowler spent more than four decades working as a midwife in the NHS

The NHS is approaching its 70th anniversary this summer and few are better placed to assess its transformation over the years than Jean Fowler.

The retired midwife spent the majority of her 42-year career working at Falkirk Royal Infirmary where she started out as a theatre nurse in 1957.

Former NHS midwife Jean Fowler who worked at Falkirk Royal Infirmary

Former NHS midwife Jean Fowler who worked at Falkirk Royal Infirmary

Jean (79) worked 48 hours a week and was paid just £8 per month in her first year.

As the NHS prepares to celebrate its latest milestone on Thursday, July 5, Jean has been reflecting on the changes she has seen in the service over the decades.

She told the Herald: “I think it was one of the great-est privileges in life to look after women and to be there with them at such a precious time for them and their 
family.

“When I started, there 
were no husbands allowed in the labour room – there was only the midwife, the student midwife and a doctor if needed.

“But 95 per cent of the deliveries were normal and you only called the doctor if you absolutely needed it.

“The equipment was basic. You had to use all your senses and listen to the foetal heartbeat with a stethoscope – there was no ultrasound.

“For home deliveries, there was no oxygen. I remember one day it took a long time before the senior midwife was able to resucitate a sick baby as there was nothing she could give it.”

Having retired on April 26, 1999, Jean recently had 
a chance to see how the NHS operates now when she 
returned to hospital as a patient.

And although she couldn’t fault the care she received, Jean noticed there were fewer nurses on hand than there were in her day.

She added: “I suppose there are more people working part-time and there are more agency staff and bank nurses, but they don’t work the same number of hours we used to.

“The staff in the NHS today are appreciated, but they are run off their feet.

“I think I worked at a good time. I think I worked at the best time.”