Unique study will gather staff stories from Victorian hospitals

A unique project to gather the personal stories of people who cared for patients in large Victorian-era medical institutions has been launched by the University of West London (UWL).

Professors Bob Gates and Kay Mafuba of UWL are co-leading an innovative study to record testimonies by 40 individuals who used to work as qualified nurses or healthcare assistants caring for long-stay patients in England and Ireland, up to 30 years ago. The project is a partnership between UWL, Trinity College Dublin and the Royal College of Nursing.

This research is unique because it is the first time that a large oral history project will seek to capture so many stories from staff who worked at the large 19th-century hospitals – most of which have long since been shut down. It is also the first joint Anglo / Irish oral history of that workforce. 

Prof. Gates, who is a professor of learning disabilities, hopes the project can have benefits for the nursing profession today. 

He said: ‘Many nurses and assistants stayed loyal to their jobs at these hospitals for years, despite the challenging nature of their roles. Understanding why staff chose to do this may give us insights which help boost recruitment and retention in nursing today.’

Explaining the inspiration behind the research project, Prof. Gates, said: ‘These institutions were an artefact of the Victorian era and it would be a travesty not to record the unique, personal histories of the dedicated professionals who staffed them. They will serve as an important resource for nursing scholars and social history students. Also, these stories are fascinating in their own right.’ 

The personal accounts which the research collates will join the Library and Archive Service of the Royal College of Nursing, which holds a national oral history collection on nursing.

Professor Gates  

Professor Gates is also Visiting Professor of Learning Disabilities at the University of Derby, editor of the British Journal of Learning Disabilities and emeritus professor at the University of Hertfordshire.

Find out more about the College of Nursing Midwifery and Healthcare. Check out the College on Twitter: @UWL_CNMH