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Wednesday, July 1, 1998 Published at 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK

A career of caring

Liz Austin epitomises the dedication to service that typifies many who have worked in the NHS. She was there on the first day in 1948 and continues to work in a Shrewsbury hospital. Liz was recently honoured with an MBE.

Social Affairs Editor Niall Dickson looks at the changing role of health workers.
The National Health Service has changed a lot over the last 50 years - and Liz Austin has seen it all from the inside.

Liz, in-patient services manager at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, has spent all her working life as an NHS employee and has recently been awarded an MBE for her trouble.

Three generations

[ image: Liz Austin aged 18, as Appointments Officer at the Royal Salop Infirmery]
Liz Austin aged 18, as Appointments Officer at the Royal Salop Infirmery
She was first taken on as a "general dogsbody" or junior administrative clerk at the age of 15 back in 1948. It was no accident that Liz headed for the hospital for her first job. After all, she had spent much of her childhood there.

"My family in Shrewsbury have given over 200 years service to Shrewsbury hospitals over three generations. My father worked for 43 years in a psychiatric hospital, my uncle worked for 46 years and various aunts and uncles all add up to this service with my own," she said.

She was inspired to try for the job because a new "modern" hospital was opening up in Shrewsbury in 1948 and she thought there might be opportunities ahead. After badgering the staff, the young Liz was taken on and got to run errands all over the hospital.

Liz remembers what it was like starting out in 1948.
Rising through the ranks

She rapidly rose through the ranks to the level of receptionist at the Royal Salop Infirmary. After becoming appointments officer at the age of 18, she organised a new clinic system and managed to persuade reluctant doctors that it was a good idea.

Until then, patients just used to turn up on an assigned day and wait. Liz gave the patients timed appointments which saved them hanging around all day. Eventually the senior surgeon sent for the nervous teenager and told her that he agreed the system worked.

As Bed Bureau Officer for Shropshire in 1956, Liz set up the emergency bed service for the county. She held the post for 36 years and says that you had to be pretty good with figures to do the job before computerisation.

The medical advances are "marvellous".
The old days

Liz remembers when patients used to have to bring in their ration books and hand them over when they were admitted to hospital. She also said that visits were limited to three times a week and that the times were strictly enforced.

But out of all the changes that have taken place over the last 50 years, it is the advances in medical technology that have impressed Liz the most.

"When you think that hip operations, knee operations, the big arterial heart operations, the liver and kidney transplants - all these things are normal now. We say so-and-so down the road is going in for a heart operation. You know it's a triple bypass or something - but it's just as though he was having his tonsils out isn't it?

"When you think all these things have been developed in just 50 years, I think that it's just marvellous," she said.

'The envy of the world'

[ image: Liz earlier this year - she plans to retire in August]
Liz earlier this year - she plans to retire in August
Liz is just a couple of months away from retirement, but intends to do voluntary work with patients to keep an eye on things.

She is also absolutely certain that medical improvements will continue to be made and that both her hospital and the NHS have a future - whatever government is in power.

"People in Shropshire love their hospital and, if that is the same throughout the country, as I am sure it must be, they'll never let it go.

"We're the envy of the world. OK, we get hiccups and we hear about the hiccups ... but its all the good things that go on underneath, all the day to day things that are important," she said.

"It will move forward. Gosh, I hope I'm up there in the next 50 years looking down - I think it will be most interesting."

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