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History of HCA’s

There were no professional nurses in Ireland in the early 19th century, in this period nursing was left to women ‘who were too old, too weak, too drunken, too stupid or too bad to do anything else’ These women were the original nurses.   The original Healthcare Assistants were called ‘pauper nurses’ Workhouses began to spring up all over Ireland from the mid 1840’s to cope with the poverty and destitution caused by the 1845-49 famine.  These places were a last resort for the people, the men were housed separately from the women and children.  Catholics were housed and treated separately from Protestants and had staff of their own religious persuasion caring for them. Each workhouse had an infirmary. In the years up to the 1890’s the increasing numbers of sick people needing admission to the infirmary led to the need for trained nurses.  The South Dublin Union, now St James University Hospital was one of these workhouses.  The infirmary was staffed by ‘pauper nurses’, untrained, and because of their own poor circumstances tended to help themselves from the workhouse supplies and medicines.  The Government invited the Sisters of Mercy to help staff the infirmary and in 1880 ten sisters were appointed as nurses at a salary of £30 per annum.   These sisters were untrained.  Also employed at that time were two protestant deaconesses who were trained nurses.  These salaried nurses, concentrated on hygiene and nutrition and there was an immediate improvement in the care of the residents.   The salaried nurses took their instructions from the doctors and the ‘Pauper Nurses’ took their instructions from the nurses.  “The Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 made it illegal to employ or use an untrained or uncertified person as a nurse” Today we would like to see HIQA give the same directive about Healthcare Assistants.   Formal training of nurses began in Baggot Street Hospital in the early 1880’s.

Coakley D & M 2018 The History and Heritage of St James’s Hospital Dublin. Four Courts Press PP97.

 

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