Margaret Nimmo: Nursing administrator who oversaw the restructuring of her profession

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The Independent Online

Margaret Nimmo started nursing at 17, which was possible in Scotland in 1941, and became a leading nurse administrator, creating new structures when nursing was establishing its own administrative identity, no longer under, but parallel with, doctors. She also became a collector of modern art and, although tone-deaf herself, pioneered a series of charity fund-raising concerts.

Margaret Nimmo was born in West Lothian, one of three sisters. She trained in Edinburgh at the Western General Hospital, where she was to spend the rest of her professional life, apart from a period spent at Aberdeen where she qualified as a midwife. The matron of the Western, noting her potential, sent her on an administrative course at the Royal College of Nursing in 1955, and in 1963 she was awarded a Florence Nightingale Fellowship to study nursing practice in the US.

At the Western, the surgeon Sir John Bruce founded a combined medical and surgical gastro-intestinal unit, focused primarily on the management of peptic ulceration and inflammatory bowel disease. In this multi-disciplinary atmosphere Nimmo was the ward sister.

From here she moved on to beadministrative sister, assistantmatron, deputy matron and, in 1964, matron. She soon showed herselfto be a prophet before her time. She told a national newspaper in 1968 that hospitals had much to learn fromindustrial methods of organisation and management, which if applied to the NHS might increase efficiency andreduce costs.

"The process of adoption from an era of dedication, selfless service and somewhat muddled, but kindly, organisation to technological expertise is bound to be difficult," she declared. "Spinsters are vanishing, hitherto ward sisters and matrons virtually ran the hospitals as socially unattractive twins. Their long experience gave stability and a sense of security to other staff and patients. Adverse publicity, hints of disharmony, autocratic attitudes by administration, increase disenchantment. The young today will not respond to organisations lacking in clear objectives, good communication or in just management."

During this period, nurses were asserting their autonomy as a separate profession, and Nimmo was part of this, becoming a member of the Scottish Board of the Royal College of Nursing and of its national council. With the Salmon Report of 1966 came management change for nurses. Nimmo took up the newly created position of chief nursing officer for the Edinburgh Northern Health Board, responsible for hospitals on the north side of the capital. In 1974 this board was succeeded by the Lothian Health Board, of which Nimmo remained CNO until her retirement in 1985.

Although not at all musical herself, when approached by the Sir Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund for Children, she helped launch carol concerts by nurses and hospital staff in the Usher Hall. Over the years, these raised considerable sums for the charity, now the CLIC Sergent Fund.

On retirement she set out to travel, often visiting nurses she had met when they came to Britain to study. Wherever she went, Nimmo sought those who had come to the Western and met the leaders of the profession in China, Japan, India and Canada. Her hobbies were the collection of antiques and modern art, including the work of Dame Elizabeth Blackadder.

Margaret Nimmo, nurse administrator: born West Lothian 31 January 1923; died Edinburgh 27 October 2010.