Bring back those straight-laced matrons

When I was last in a maternity hospital, it was a miracle any of us survived the ordeal

Share
Related Topics

Duty more than devotion prompted my last hospital visit to see a crabby old relative laid low with a mysterious condition that apparently allows her to digest only chocolate biscuits and gin. Laden with quantities of both I arrived at her beside to be greeted with the usual litany of complaints about the doctor, the nurses, the other patients and her pills. What about the cleaners, I said, having just read the latest alarming report about the MRSA hospital superbug which killed 5,000 NHS patients last year and will see off a lot more this year if standards of hygiene don't improve pretty sharply.

Duty more than devotion prompted my last hospital visit to see a crabby old relative laid low with a mysterious condition that apparently allows her to digest only chocolate biscuits and gin. Laden with quantities of both I arrived at her beside to be greeted with the usual litany of complaints about the doctor, the nurses, the other patients and her pills. What about the cleaners, I said, having just read the latest alarming report about the MRSA hospital superbug which killed 5,000 NHS patients last year and will see off a lot more this year if standards of hygiene don't improve pretty sharply.

My relative, to whom I had better refer as Great Aunt X, replied that the Filipino cleaners were the only good thing going for the hospital because, for a small remuneration, they decanted her gin into mineral water bottles every morning and kept her topped up with tins of her favourite milk chocolate teatime assortment. Since the hospital she is in happens to be my local hospital, I did a quick spot check under the bed for mouse droppings, ran my fingertips over the windowsill for dust and squinted behind the bathroom door for discarded fag ends. Hospital lavatories are a favourite place for smokers. Clean as a whistle, no droppings, no dust, no dead butts. The basin could possibly have done with a quick wipe down; there were a few matted grey hairs in the plughole, but compared to one of the maternity hospitals I had the misfortune to be stuck in for two weeks back in 1980 something, the place was as pure, spotless and unsullied as Tony Blair's conscience.

In the circumstances it's a miracle that any of us mothers and babies survived the ordeal. The floor of the ward was so sticky that the woman in the bed beside me complained that if she didn't put her feet straight into her slippers when she got out of bed, it sucked the corn plaster off her big toe like a powerful magnet.

There were supposed to be two bathrooms for the eight of us in the ward. In practice there was only one because the door of the left-hand bathroom had come off its hinges and remained propped against the wall for the fortnight I was there. If you weren't squeamish about using a lavatory without a door, a further surprise awaited you inside. On the shelf beside the spare loo paper there was a plastic jug containing what might have been lemonade or malt whiskey but was eventually diagnosed by someone with a nose for these things to be a urine sample.

The trouble with cleanliness (apart from being next to godliness) is that one person's idea of ship-shape and Bristol fashion is another person's slum. I had lunch with friends in their beautiful Northamptonshire cottage the other day and was astonished when my hostess apologised for the mess. What mess? The place looked as though it had just had an industrial spring clean. I personally go in for the cosy cluttered look which friends with higher standards prefer to call a tip. One in particular who learnt housewifery from her Austrian mother-in-law is appalled at the amount of stuff I keep permanently on my kitchen worktops and table. She puts everything away in drawers and cupboards, and I mean everything including the kitchen sink which, when not in use, is concealed under a cunningly designed pullout shelf.

When she first moved to Salzburg, Mutti, as she called her mother-in-law who lived on the top floor of the marital home, made my poor nervous newly married friend do housework with her every day until teatime. Mutti may have called it housework; I'd call it hard labour for hygiene obsessives. Take a simple thing like making the bed. To me it means straightening the bottom sheet, pulling up the duvet and shoving everything on it under the pillow. Mutti took the bed apart. She hung duvet and pillow out of the window to air and, before turning the mattress, spent 15 minutes dusting the bedsprings with the special bedspring dusting attachment of her vacuum cleaner.

The only effective antidote to MRSA was taken out of service by the NHS years ago. I refer to that now extinct species, hospital matron, who ran her wards as efficiently as Mutti ran her Haus. Matron and Mutti were chips off the same old block, no-nonsense martinets who could spot a dust particleat 100 paces and disciplined their cleaning staff in much the same way as Napoleon commanded his troops. Not everyone liked hospital matrons but then I didn't much like my Auntie Vera who, whenever we visited her house as children, followed us around with a dustpan and brush even in the garden. Bring back matrons; you know it makes sense.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory