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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz