Obituary: Sheila Garrett

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The Independent Culture
SHEILA GARRETT was the hinge between the old order of nursing and the new at St Thomas' Hospital, London.

She was its first chief nursing officer (and last, for the title varied subsequently; her predecessor had been the last matron) and was its first head of nursing not to wear a uniform. Hers was a difficult and delicate task in a hospital bound in tradition. It had been chosen in 1860, by the fund set up to mark Florence Nightingale's work in the Crimea, as the centre for the pioneering school of nursing.

A GP's daughter, Sheila Garrett was born in 1919 in Worksop. She went to a Woodard school - St Ethelburgha's, Harrogate - and the Anglican influence remained with her. As a nurse she collected religious books and in retirement in Sussex she sang in the church choir, sat on the parochial church council and was a member of the deanery synod.

Garrett entered the Nightingale School at St Thomas' in 1939 and trained there and at its evacuated sector hospitals throughout the Second World War. Subsequently she trained as a tutor, joining the tutorial staff of the Nightingale School. She had a partial career break looking after her father but she combined this with establishing a preliminary training school for nurses at the local Victoria Hospital in Worksop.

She returned to St Thomas' and in 1963 was seconded to the office of the clerk to the governors. Garrett then moved on to the nursing division of the Department of Health and Social Security, working on hospital planning.

Times were changing in nursing. In 1966 the Salmon Report recommended a new career structure for nurses which would result in the abolition of the title of matron. Garrett went forth from the department to proclaim the new order round the country. When the post of chief nursing officer (CNO) at St Thomas' was advertised, Dame Katherine Raven, head of the nursing division at the department, urged Garrett to apply.

When Garrett returned to St Thomas' in 1970 she had the task of implementing Salmon. It required the skills of a diplomat as well as a manager. "There is no blueprint for Salmon - but there are principles to be applied," she wrote in the Nursing Times. As CNO, Garrett adopted an "open door" policy and because she lived at the hospital, she would wander around it at times when nine-to-five administrators were not there. If ever Garrett was absent from her office her staff knew she could be found in "the corridor" which ran the quarter-of-a-mile length of the hospital.

By the early Seventies not only nursing but the NHS itself faced reorganisation. The clerk to the governors and the CNO did not always see eye to eye but out of their general hospital management grew the "grey book" which was the bible for Sir Keith Joseph's restructured health service. In 1974, once the task for which she had been appointed had been completed, Garrett left.

To finish off her career, Garrett went to the health policy organisation the King's Fund, in London, where she tutored management and other courses. Through the International Hospitals Federation she also had contact with nurses overseas, particularly in Japan.

Sheila Garrett was small in stature but, like "little corporal" Napoleon, commanded by her presence. She took a pride in her appearance, typically wearing a tailored blue dress. Coming back from the hairdresser's with a hatbox she would confess to her PA that "I had to drop into D.H. Evans". Hats were one of her indulgences.

Sheila Agnes Graham Garrett, nurse: born Worksop, Nottinghamshire 5 February 1919; Chief Nursing Officer, St Thomas' Hospital 1970-74; died Danehill, East Sussex 6 March 1999.