Christine’s half century providing care in cottage hospital

A HEALTHCARE support worker has racked up an amazing 50 years of service at one of Dumfries and Galloway’s cottage hospitals.

Christine Groves was born just before the NHS was created, and has seen changes take place within the health service since she started her career in 1968.

How Christine first came to work at Newton Stewart Cottage Hospital is itself very different to approaches today.

Christine, 71, who today is a great grandmother and lives just across the road from the hospital, said: “I just came in to see if there was a job, and I was asked if I could come in and start on the Monday.

“I didn’t have any family connection – I just fancied nursing and made the approach to see if there were any jobs for me, and then I started on the Monday.

“It was a bit of a shock to start off with, because I was only young, but it was fine; I loved it.

“You just learned as you went along. There was no training, and no lifts or hoists. But it was absolutely fine; I took to it.”

Christine added: “At that time the hospital was mainly geriatrics, providing long-term geriatric care. People came in and they stayed here.

“There were up to eighteen patients, and a lot of folk could be here for years. So to a lot of them we were their family; they didn’t have family, so we were their family, really.

“It’s still the same building, and the wards you see here are the original rooms, with some new parts having been added on over the years.

“We had two six-bedded wards and a small single ward, and where Ward 1 is now was accommodation for staff – because you had to sleep in the hospital in those days.

“There were three of us staying overnight at that time, living in the hospital, because there was only one nurse on duty during the night in those days, and you were on call if need be.”

Christine’s responsibilities included manually helping to move patients, without the help of hoists or lifts.

And she notes that there weren’t the same disposable items when she started in the 1960s.

Christine said: “With bed pans, sputum mugs and things like that, they weren’t disposable in those days. They were stainless steel, and had to be cleaned.”

Newton Stewart was still serving as a long-stay hospital into the late 80s and early 90s, when its role started changing with the arrival of more short-term, rehabilitation patients.

Christine says that she enjoys her life, and her role in caring for people.

She said: “I like all parts of my job but it’s very important being able to do what might be that last thing for another human being, making them comfortable and making them feel cared for, them and their families. I don’t think there’s anything you can do in nursing that’s quite as amazing as that.”

Christine can recall when minor surgery used to take place in the minor injuries unit, and dental surgery – with an experience of the latter giving rise to the first occasion Christine fainted.

She said: “I can remember getting hot.”

Change has taken place within the hospital over time, with a move away from long stay care.

Christine said: “It was nice to have the long stay, but it’s nice to see them getting better and going home.

“It’s been a gradual change.

“Back in the day we had an on-site matron, there were two senior sisters. It was quite regimental in those days. You had matron coming in and doing the rounds.

“The uniform was different, too, beds had to be made in the right way. It’s a bit more relaxed now, but I think that makes us more approachable.”

And although some people might think a cottage hospital lacks excitement, Christine said: “We’ve had lots of things happen over the years, with babies being born here, and incidents where people have came here seeking help.”

Christine has a very strong connection to the local community, having lived in Newton Stewart her whole life.

With two sons, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren, she said: “The majority of folks who come in here are local, and if you don’t know them you know somebody who does.”

And with no plans to step away from her work, she added: “I still enjoy it, and the young ones keep me young. I’m not ready to go just yet.

“I’m just an easy-going person and I like my job.”

Christine with Newton Stewart Cottage Hospital Nurse Manager Donna Boyce, who she met when the latter was a 20-year-old student nurse starting out at the hospital

Donna Boyce is Nurse Manager at Newton Stewart Cottage Hospital, and her connection to Christine goes back to when she started her first post as a qualified Enrolled Nurse.

Reflecting on Christine, Donna said: “It’s quite unique that somebody’s stayed in the same place; that’s something that really struck me. Plus she’s 71 now, and showing no signs of slowing down.

“You see new, trained staff coming through and moving on, and youngsters coming in as student nurses, and Christine supports them through their training.

“I can even remember starting here as a young enrolled nurse, and my lasting memory of Christine is her taking me under her wing and looking after me.

“That always stayed with me, and I’ve gone full circle. Managing Community Nursing in Wigtownshire and Newton Stewart Hospital now.

All the new staff that come in are quite drawn to Christine, – I think it’s because of her personality, and the way she makes people feel safe and allows them that chance to learn and to know she’s there to support.

“People are quite drawn to Christine – she’s just got that personality – and she’s central to Newton Stewart Cottage Hospital, without a doubt.”

Christine has some simple advice for anyone considering a career within the NHS.

She said: “I would say go for it; I have no regrets.”

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