Government policy on the healthcare workforce and how it was being communicated to the NHS was causing an element of confusion for nurses in December 1948.

Marjorie Wenger, then editor of Nursing Times, attempted to provide some clarity on the matter in an article in the edition dated 4 December.

She highlighted that an important pamphlet setting out government policy on nurse staffing had recently been distributed to hospital managers and was being referred to as the ‘red book’.

However, she noted that the pamphlet was in fact white in colour, and that it should not be confused with two major policy reports on nursing at the time, one of which did have a red cover.

Once this important distinction had been cleared up, Ms Wenger said she thought the pamphlet had an “informed and progressive outlook” and “augurs well for the future”.

As an example, she said the pamphlet stated that a shortage of trained nurses was likely to “persist for some years”, making it essential that the “best use be made of all the skilled nurses available”.

As a result, the pamphlet detailed tasks that could be delegated, or “relegated”, as Ms Wenger put it, to other grades of staff, to free up nurses’ time.

Among the duties considered suitable for orderlies or domestic staff were the “arranging of flowers, answering telephones, and running messages, dealing with soiled and clean linen, cutting bread and butter, and preparing meal trays, ruling up record books, and the care of patient’s clothing etc”.

On a similar note that still holds true today, Ms Wenger went on to explain that the pamphlet said time should not be “overlooked” as a factor, when it came to contact between patients and nurses.

It stated: “If nurses are in a continual hurry, the patients are apt to refrain from making known their needs, and their peace of mind is affected. All nurses require some time to sit down and study their various reports and records of consultation concerning their patients.”

The pamphlet also proposed shift patterns for sisters, staff nurses and students, including a suggested three-month period of night duty, starting at 11pm and ending at 8.15am.

On this latter proposal, Ms Wenger questioned whether three months of night shifts was “really the optimum” and suggested eight or nine weeks would “be long enough for such work”.

Elsewhere in the edition, Dr A Elder, then deputy chief medical officer for Northern Ireland, described the “energetic” growth in certified training for health visiting in the country.

The number of certified health visitors had leapt from just 14 in December 1947 to 57 by December 1948, said Dr Elder, while also noting that 170 trained health visitors were thought to be needed.

In conclusion, the author issued a caution, which today’s health visitors might find familiar, writing: “You may, at times, encounter obstinacy, coldness, indifference or even open hostility.

“But you must, and can only, overcome this by your persuasiveness, charm of manner and personality,” said Dr Elder.

Later on, in a feature titled ‘Eating and Sleeping’, Nursing Times covered a related topic when it tackled the age-old challenges for parents of poor eating and bad sleeping among children.

It covered the release of two films by the Central Office of Information called Your Children’s Sleep and Your Children’s Meals, which Nursing Times said gave a “vivid picture of these problems”.

For example, the author noted that a “small child knows only too well” that to refuse their food is an “excellent way of attracting attention”, before highlighting the advice provided in the films.

“Children usually eat best when they are with other people, and the family meal is an important social event when subjects of great controversy should be avoided,” the piece stated solemnly.

Showing some public health naivety, it added: “The pleasant finish to a meal, which the father gets through the satisfaction of his after-dinner pipe, should be extended to a child by giving him a sweet.”

The advice provided on sleep was perhaps less dated and more timeless, stating: “Taking a toy to bed helps the child to go happily to bed, and from his playtime world into sleep.”

Meanwhile, an advert on page 897 extolled the virtues of a well-known blackcurrant drink brand, Ribena, for gum infections due to it being “particularly rich in natural vitamin C”.

To view the Nursing Times Archive, visit:

Step back in time with the Nursing Times Archive

Nursing Times has launched an online archive of its print issues, meaning subscribers can now dip into the history of nursing at the touch of a button.

Readers can discover how nursing has changed over the decades with each issue containing stories, features and even adverts offering a fascinating insight into the profession and much more.

The Nursing Times Archive is an exciting new addition to our brand and a great resource that can be accessed directly from the Nursing Times website.

The archive represents over a 100 years of nursing history, starting with the first print issue of Nursing Times published on 6 May 1905.

Start exploring the Nursing Times Archive

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