Longest-standing nurse at Harrogate Hospital Monica shares 70th birthday with NHS

Matron of A&E, Stephanie Davis, Dr Alison Walker, Nurse Monica Sharpe, Dr Matt Shepherd, Raymond Sharpe, Nurse In Charge Sandy Lay
Matron of A&E, Stephanie Davis, Dr Alison Walker, Nurse Monica Sharpe, Dr Matt Shepherd, Raymond Sharpe, Nurse In Charge Sandy Lay

The longest serving member of staff at Harrogate District Hospital is celebrating her own 70th birthday ttomorrow, the day after the NHS marks its own 70 year milestone.

Nurse Monica Sharpe, was born on July 6, 1948, in Trinidad, the day after the National Health Service was launched.

One of 13 children, Monica left her father’s sugar cane plantation in 1969 to pursue an advert in the local paper calling for nurses to train and work in the UK.

Monica said: “Twelve of us are girls, my parents had split up and I was at home in Trinidad and they advertised for nurses here in Harrogate.

“We came here and arrived at Leeds and then came to Harrogate General. I’d never travelled on a plane before in my life.”

At just 21, Monica was living at the nurses’ residence on Rutland Drive with her sister who had also come over from Trinidad.

She said: “I was a general nurse, you went onto the wards to help the patients and make their beds, then we went to school and did our training and learned how to do things before going back to the ward to practice it.

“We had to learn on the job, I wasn’t a nurse then. Apart from looking after my sisters, I didn’t have any experience, I had never even seen another man or woman naked and I was 21.

“I remember doing backs with elderly patients and in Trinidad we respect our elders, we never answer back, I was brought up like that, so I came here and I was doing it and looking away out of respect. I’m still like that.”

Before the District Hospital had been built, Monica served patients in Scotton Banks Hospital, the Royal Baths Hospital and the General Hospital.

In 1972, Monica was helping TB patients at the General Hospital when she met her Ripon husband, Raymond.

She said: “I didn’t meet him, he met me, I didn’t like him at first really. I was 23 at the time and I’d never had a boyfriend or been kissed or anything so I was thinking I was going to be left on the shelf but he really liked me.”

Soon after the couple were married in Ripon Cathedral, and in January 1975 the couple travelled back to Trinidad to introduce Raymond to Monica’s parents. When they returned to Harrogate the District Hospital had been officially opened, but Monica was still busy working at the General.

Now, Monica works in the Harrogate District Hospital A&E department and has done for years, but she claims the face of nursing has changed greatly since the her days on the old Florence Nightingale wards of the General.

She said: “You had to have your uniform pressed and look well dressed, you had to be prim and proper and all done out nicely with your lovely hat.

“I think there was more nursing of the patients then there is now because it’s all computers. We did bed pans round on a morning, we gave them their breakfast, we made their bed, we bathed and showered them and everything by lunchtime.

“At lunchtime they had their lunch, we went round all the trollies and made them nice and tidy for visitors coming.

“When it was visiting time we went in the sluice and shine the bed pans and cleaned them and had a chat and washed the thermometers.

“We had chats in the sluice because we didn’t have a staff room as such.”

Next August, Monica will have served as a nurse in the Harrogate NHS Trust for 50 years and has no plans to retire any time soon.

She said: “I enjoy the job I really do, it was never about the money, I never complained or looked at my wage packet. We were always working on the sugar cane plantation for my dad, straight after school we were cutting cane, planting cane, and you never got any money. That’s why I’ve always liked working.”

She added: “I’m very proud of my time in the NHS, I’m hoping I live to make it to 50 years because I’m still working, I’m still nursing so I’m not planning on leaving and they don’t want me to go!”