Wigan nurse dedicates over five decades of her life to nursing
School nurse Norma Newcombe will be a familiar face to many people of different generations in Wigan.
For she has spent the past 44 years working as a school nurse in the borough, supporting thousands of youngsters, and a total of 58 years in the nursing profession.
After all that time, she still remembers exactly why she decided to become a nurse.
Norma, who lives in Ashton, said: “I was a patient. There was a history of squints in our family and I was the only one with the problem. My squints just didn’t go. I was bullied an awful lot from the age of about six.
“It was an adult hospital with a little ward for the children. Obviously when you are a child and they are all adults, the nurses take you under their wing.
“I’m still in touch with one of the nurses who cared for me.”
Norma watched the nurses at work and even helped them to make sanitary towels.
“I loved every minute of it and kept saying that’s what I was going to do when I grew up and that’s what I did,” she said.
Norma missed a lot of school while she was in hospital, but she worked hard and says her mum was “amazed” when she got her qualifications. She left school at 14 and did a two-year pre-nursing course before going to college at 16.
She started nursing in August 1958 as a cadet at a hospital for babies in Liverpool, before working at a children’s hospital after she qualified.
Norma took a break from nursing when she became pregnant in 1965 to care for her two children.
But in 1973 she decided to return to work and was appointed as a school nurse based at Hindley Health Centre - the job she still holds today.
Norma was involved with the baby clinics there, which meant children already knew her when she later met them in school.
She said: “When those children got to school, they knew us and we knew them. “We were named nurses for certain schools and I knew all the children there because they had come into the clinic.”
She was allocated five schools at the time and visited to check the children’s weight, height, hearing and vision, as well as speak to them about any issues and refer them to a health visitor if needed.
Norma said: “I used to go into schools a lot. Pre-school children and the reception class had meetings with parents and school nurses went to those meetings, talked to parents and knew their children.
“I was in a unique position because everybody knew me.”
She was involved in health education, such as hand washing, checked the children’s hair for lice and even visited children and their families at home.
Norma is particularly proud of her involvement in bed wetting clinics.
“Bed wetting was a terrible stigma,” she said.
“I felt more passionately about it because I was a bed wetter as a child. My mum used to tell me I was dirty and lazy because people didn’t know then. I used to run the clinics and I would have extra empathy because I knew how they felt.”
She is also proud of her efforts to help children stop smoking.
She wrote to then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998 to tell him about the work she had done with children and also received an award from the primary care trust in 2007.
She has always enjoyed helping children and particularly likes supporting pupils at special schools.Nowadays Norma is based at Platt Bridge Health Centre and does work in Ashton, Hindley and Platt Bridge.
A lot of her work now involves safeguarding, which can be when a family comes to the attention of social services and other professionals and needs help.
She does still visit schools, including to carry out immunisations and hold drop-in sessions.
But changes to the health system means she spends less time there and does not know all the children anymore.
Norma says many people do not even realise school nurses still exist - and she wants to change that.
She said: “School nurses are very important. One of the things that annoys me is that when I go into a school and they introduce me, they say they didn’t know there was a school nurse anymore.
“I make them quite aware - we are here, we are very important and we are on the end of a phone.”
Norma’s contribution as a nurse was recently recognised by Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust when she was given the
Chairman’s Award For Lifetime Achievement at the annual staff awards.
“I was humbled. I was proud because I felt my colleagues must have thought a lot of me to put me forward,” she said.
Grandmother-of-two Norma is now 75 years old and has dedicated nearly six decades of her life to nursing - but she has no plans to retire yet.
She laughed: “I was retiring at 65 and then I was retiring at 70 and every year since I have been retiring!”
Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust Chief Executive Colin Scales said: “Norma’s long-standing career in the nursing profession is truly inspirational.
“For the past 45 years she has shown tremendous commitment and dedication to working in the community as a school nurse helping thousands of children stay healthy.
“Norma has a wealth of experience and expertise that is greatly appreciated by Bridgewater, her colleagues and generations of families in Wigan borough.”