Obituary: Margery Westbrook

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The Independent Culture
MARGERY WESTBROOK was the first practising nurse to be elected chairman of the Staff Side of the Nurses and Midwives Whitley Council, which determined the salaries of nurses, midwives and health visitors from the start of the National Health Service until they, like the doctors, got a review body in 1984.

"Who is this matron - isn't she part of management?" one of the trade union representatives grumbled. She was in fact an astute nurse politician, although when she started her six-year stint representing the nursing professions over pay and conditions in 1963, she was comparatively new to negotiating at national level.

She was to become a member of the Salmon committee which abolished matrons - she was the last matron of Southmead Hospital, Bristol, for the term was dropped when she retired. She was also a member of the Platt committee which looked at the structure of the medical profession and of an expert committee on hepatitis B infection.

With the matter-of-fact approach of someone born in Yorkshire, Westbrook was unruffled in argument - and unperturbed by responsibility. Her father was a pharmacist at Rotherham, where she was born in 1910, and she worked as an assistant in his shop before training as a state-registered nurse at Sheffield Royal Infirmary, qualifying in 1935.

She went to the newly built Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, in 1938 and as a tall, dark-haired staff nurse she was chosen as one of the guard of honour when Queen Elizabeth, with her husband King George VI, came to open it. She was impressed by the Queen's "raven hair, blue, blue eyes and porcelain skin". Westbrook was soon made sister of a mixed surgical ward. Here she nursed wounded soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk. "Don't take me boots and socks off, sister," one of them begged her, "I haven't washed for days."

She was promoted to night superintendent, then in a lateral professional move she obtained the sister tutor's diploma, but her real interest was in administration. She took the management course at the Royal College of Nursing and became assistant matron at the General Hospital, Bristol.

When her father died she used her other qualification to be a sister tutor at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, so as to be with her widowed mother. Two years later she returned to administration, as matron of Weston- super-Mare Hospital, from where she got promotion as matron of Southmead Hospital, Bristol. She continued to care for her elderly mother, who lived with her in the matron's flat.

Westbrook was progressive in her ideas about nursing and conditions for nurses. She became a member of the council of the Royal College of Nursing and was active in the Matrons' Association. The International Council of Nurses appointed her to one of its committees in Geneva. Progressive also in her views on patient care, she had an ally in the group secretary - the lay manager - at Southmead Hospital, Christopher Hancock. She was appointed a member of the South West Regional Hospital Board.

When she retired Westbrook went first to Ottery St Mary, with her mother, and subsequently to Stoke Gifford, near Bristol, where she was an active member of the parish council while the area transformed into a satellite town; she was also chairman of the Stoke Gifford Trust. Her hobbies were gardening, antiques and interior decorating. She had a strong dress sense and was anxious to help her nurses socially: a colleague described how "she hated HP Sauce bottles on nurses' homes dining tables".

Grace Margery Westbrook, nurse and matron: born Rotherham, Yorkshire 13 July 1910; chairman, Staff Side, Nurses and Midwives, Whitley Council 1963-69; CBE 1970; died Almondsbury, Gloucestershire 30 May 1999.