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Woman who dedicated 70 years to NHS makes emotional return to where it all began; Ethel Armstrong, 87, started her nursing career at Newcastle's largest mental health hospital - St Nicholas' - in 1947.

Byline: Kali Lindsay

This is the emotional moment a woman who has dedicated her life to theNHSreturned to where it all began.

When Ethel Armstrong walked through the doors of Newcastle's largest mental health hospital in 1947, little did she know it would be the start of nursing career spanning seven decades.

At the time, the NHS did not exist and only the richest people were able to access health care.

What the NHS was like 70 years ago - according to a woman who worked for it on its first ever day

But just 12 months later that all changed and Ethel, of Lanchester, County Durham, was there for the birth of the NHS.

Now aged 87, Ethel has returned toSt Nicholas Hospital in Gosforth, Newcastle, where her nursing career started.

She said: "It is a very emotional journey.

"I walked up this long drive in 1947 because I was too young to be a student at theRoyal Victoria Infirmaryso I was here for ten months filling in.

"It was totally different as it is now.

"The tower block is still the door I walked through as a 17-year-old who had never set foot in a hospital in her life.

"I walked through with shiny shoes, which has been my trademark all my professional life, and half a crown in my pocket and that was my bus fare home."

NHS rally in Newcastle city centre

At the time, Ethel was unsure about whether she'd work within healthcare all her life because it was a two tier system, with only those who had money getting treatment and those that didn't were unable to walk into a hospital.

"It is emotional because I walked through those doors into that hallway not knowing if I really wanted to be part of this caring because there was no mention then of the NHS but we knew something was afoot," Ethel said.

"But I couldn't believe that in 12 months they were hoping to unroll something that was free care for all from cradle to the grave."

It was then she decided that she wanted to be part of it and in 1948 - on the same day the NHS was found - Ethel joined the school of radiography.

Ethel's work took her across the country due to her husband Harry working as a director for aircraft manufacturer Hawker Siddeley.

She worked mainly in radiography and radiotherapy, and in Liverpool she helped establish the first mobile breast cancer screening service which transformed screening for the disease.

NHS employees offered free overnight stay in hotels between now and Christmas

After retirement, Ethel joined the Durham branch of the NHS Retirement Fellowship and became an integral part of the team, serving as welfare officer in 1992 before becoming chairwoman in 1994 - a position she still holds.

In 2005, Ethel was elected the regional representative of the North East and became part of the National Council.

She was elected vice-chairwoman in 2009, chairwoman in 2011 and president in 2013 and from 2015 became a life patron.

Her dedication to the NHS saw Ethel receive an MBE in March this year and for the 70th anniversary of the NHS she travelled the country speaking and meeting with staff and officials.

Find out more about the NHS RA-etirement Fellowship at or by calling 0130 536 1317.


Credit: Newcastle Chronicle

Former nurse Ethel Armstrong who started her career at St Nicholas Hospital in Gosforth

Credit: Newcastle Chronicle

Ethel Armstrong from Lanchester who was a cadet nurse on the first day of the NHS in 1948

Credit: Newcastle Chronicle

Former nurse Ethel Armstrong who started her career at St Nicholas Hospital in Gosforth
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Publication:The Chronicle (Newscastle upon Tyne, England)
Date:Jul 22, 2018
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