Margaret Auld: Nurse who worked tirelessly to raise the status of her profession

Margaret Auld was a determined advocate of educational opportunities for nurses and, during her time as the chief nursing officer at the Scottish Home and Health Department from 1977 to 1988, did much to raise the status of the profession.

Margaret Gibson Auld was born in Cardiff, to Scottish parents; her father was a First World War amputee. Auld wanted to be a nurse for as long as she could remember. "My father thought I would be a doctor but I saw the difference quite clearly between nursing and doctoring and I wanted to be a nurse."

She trained at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, then went on to midwifery training: "Not because I thought of being a midwife, but I wanted an additional qualification which would be useful," she said. Her training began not very propitiously in a former workhouse in Cardiff where the equipment was terrible and there was a lack of organisation. Once qualified she set off to New Zealand for a year, continuing with midwifery. Returning to Britain she studied for a midwife teacher's diploma in Kingston-upon-Thames, then embarked on her special interests, education and (avant garde at the time) nursing and midwifery research.

She was soon moving through the ranks to be matron of the Simpson Memorial Pavilion, one of the major maternity units in Scotland. She was one of the first nurses to become a member of the British Institute of Management. After being area nursing officer of the Borders region, Auld was appointed chief nursing officer for the Scottish Home and Health Department in 1977. She was supportive of her nursing colleagues in Scotland, and instrumental in the development and implementation of what was called the Aberdeen formula for estimating the numbers and quality of nurses required in the hospital service.

As CNO she was a member of the Briggs Report on nursing whose 1972 report led to a revolution in nurse training. Her report looked into the development of higher options for Scottish nurses. It supported the principle that nurses appointed to top positions in management and education should be graduates and called for collaboration between all agencies to achieve this. In the days before a degree became compulsory for becoming a nurse, Auld was proud that Scotland produced 50 per cent of nurse graduates in the UK. While CNO she also did a lot of work for the World Health Organisation.

As to reconciling the positions of civil servant and nurse, Auld admitted there were conflicts. "The job may be unpalatable at times but the Secretary of State is voted in by the people, so you have to carry out wishes of whatever administration one serves."

On retirement, Auld remained active; she was invited to be president of the Edinburgh and district branch of the Royal College of Midwives, an office which had always been held by senior medical staff. She was chairman from 1992-96 of a Maternity Services Working Group and was active with Eildon Housing, a housing organisation for people with special needs. Shortage of Scots nurses in that area of expertise had been one of her concerns as a CNO.

She joined the chair of governors of Queen Margaret College the year after she retired from the Scottish health department, and was chairman from 1997-2000. Auld was the university's first honorary graduate, becoming Dr Auld in 1987. Besides education Auld was concerned with ethics and was a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority.

Joining the pioneer course in nursing administration at the University of Edinburgh in 1966, Auld met Kay Rowe, who became her lifelong friend and whom she nursed in her in her final illness during their retirement in Peebles. Always overweight, even as a little girl, Auld was never a great athlete, though she did play hockey as a teenager. She was an enthusiastic supporter of Scottish rugby. A warm, friendly person she enjoyed fine wine and travel – her aim was to see all the mountain ranges of Europe – and music.

Margaret Gibson Auld, nurse and midwife: born Cardiff 20 July 1932; Assistant Matron, Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion, Edinburgh, 1966–68, Matron, 1968–73; Chief Area Nursing Officer, Borders Health Board 1973–76; Chief Nursing Officer, Scottish Home and Health Department 1977-88; died Peebles, Scotland 10 September 2010.

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