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Royal invitation for nurse

PUBLISHED: 14:12 03 July 2008 | UPDATED: 11:20 03 July 2010

A CAISTER woman who has spent 50 years as a nurse, has a royal date next week.

Jean Freeth, 67, who is still working full-time as a TB specialist health visitor, has been invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party hosted by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on Tuesday - three days after the 60th anniversary of the National Health Service - after her name was put forward by colleagues at Great Yarmouth and Waveney Primary Care Trust.

A CAISTER woman who has spent 50 years as a nurse, has a royal date next week.

Jean Freeth, 67, who is still working full-time as a TB specialist health visitor, has been invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party hosted by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on Tuesday - three days after the 60th anniversary of the National Health Service - after her name was put forward by colleagues at Great Yarmouth and Waveney Primary Care Trust.

It was a workmate's encounter with a bacon-slicer 50 years ago that led to a career in nursing.

After leaving school at 15, Mrs Freeth worked in a post office and general store for three years and was inspired to enter nursing after escorting a colleague who had cut her finger on a bacon-slicer to a hospital casualty department in her native West Midlands.

Now based at Northgate Hospital in Great Yarmouth, Mrs Freeth, is believed to be one of the longest-serving nurses in the NHS, having become a student nurse in January 1959.

She will be accompanied to the Palace by her husband Eric, 71, who she married for a second time in 1990 and who still works full-time as a painter and decorator.

Mrs Freeth said: “When I started out in nursing, I wanted to go in to mental health nursing but that would have involved working at Winson Green Prison and my dad wouldn't let me.

“I plan to stop working full-time in April next year but will be asking the PCT if I can stay on for a couple of days a week because work has always been such an important part of my life and I don't want to finish completely.

“I'm still working full-time because I enjoy it absolutely which is what has kept me going all these years. I've enjoyed working in lots of different places with lots of different people and when I look back the only aspect of my career I'm not so fond of is the constant reorganisation of the Health Service.

“When I got the invitation through to Buckingham Palace I thought it was a wind-up! My husband's known about it for ages and has done well to keep it from me.”

Since January 1959, Mrs Freeth has had only five months off, which was when she had her daughter in January 1963. She also worked part-time for three years but that was for 33.5 hours a week - only four hours less than some full-time nurses work today!

During her long career, she has had many different roles in the NHS - including as a hospital staff nurse, district nursing sister and a midwife. She spent three years out of the NHS as an occupational health nurse for a company that made nuts and bolts in Darlaston in the Black Country.

After moving to Yarmouth in 1977, Mrs Freeth, who can recall a time when nurses worked 48 hours a week, started to work as a school nurse and then became a general health visitor before moving into her current role. She had previously worked as a TB nurse in Walsall for eight years.

Dr Alistair Lipp, Director of Public Health at Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT, said: “Jean continues to impress us all with her dedication to the treatment of patients with the serious infectious disease of tuberculosis. She is widely regarded as an expert and has the most experience I have ever come across.

“She works with people who are often living in some of life's most difficult circumstances - in situations in which many other health professionals would prefer to avoid. She truly deserves this recognition of the long service she has provided to our community.”

She and her husband, who have worked for more than 100 years between them, are also planning a trip on the Orient Express. The couple have one daughter and three grandchildren.

Mrs Freeth, who will be 68 in October, is currently training a colleague to take over her role when she does eventually stand down.

ends

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