“It doesn’t feel like 40 years is coming to an end yet. But I guess it will do. But it feels like the right choice and it is the right choice. And it feels like the right time to end a career that I have loved and has been really, really important to me.”
These are the words from paediatric nurse Janet Lee, who has just completed her last shift at the Royal Alexandra, four decades after she first came to Brighton as a student nurse.
Nineteen eighty one was a year that saw the first ever London Marathon and the launch of MTV, the year that saw Prince Charles marry Lady Diana Spencer and the Social Democrat Party shock the world of politics.
And while royal marriages and political splinter groups failed to stand the test of time, Janet is celebrating 40 years in the hospital; a working life spent looking after the city’s youngest patients.
As she contemplated handing in her I.D badge for the last time and discarding her NHS workwear, her uniform all these years, Janet, reflected on her two score years in the job.
“My mother said I always wanted to be a nurse and there are pictures of me busy playing at being one from when I was quite small. I was part of the Red Cross as a teenager and id always wanted to go into children’s nursing.
“I first came as a student nurse to the children’s hospital, which was the old Victorian building the other side of the town by the railway station. And I loved it from the beginning,” said Janet.
“It has always been a great place to work with a great set of values and from the time that I qualified. The hospital has changed beyond belief, particularly since the move.
“The move was just really exciting: the size of the building, the resources we had on offer. We moved from the 18th century to the 21st century in a car journey. I went to work in the old Alex one day and the new one the next. We’d moved over 200 years overnight. Extraordinary!”
Janet, who is retiring as a critical care practitioner, has also been an advocate for diversity and inclusivity in and out of the workplace.
She said: “I came out as a lesbian here. This city has always been a good friendly place for people like me. In the early days I was taking part in the city and fighting government laws that affected us, things like the section 28 campaign and fighting for inclusivity for LBGTQ+ people inside and outside work.
“I’ve also played a role in doing my very best in making sure it’s a safe place for disabled children and their families to be valued and recognised. Children’s nurses are important advocates for children that don’t have voices.
“I’ve really loved being part of introducing a culture where the people who work in children’s critical care learn how to use sign language so that disabled children can understand them, being part of making sure the local Allsorts LGBTQ+ charity delivered mandatory training so all the children’s nurses went and found out about the stuff that matters to young . Use the name that matters to them, use the pronouns they want. We see them for who they are. I’m really proud of that. “
It’s the children and their families that Janet will miss the most.
“I really like people and it feels a real privilege to be alongside families facing some of the toughest bits of their lives. It has always been really important to me to recognise the ordinary child and the ordinary family behind each extraordinary situation and to support them in getting on with the really important business of childhood despite the complex health needs and the life threatening situations they find themselves in.
“The relationships I’ve had with children and families through the years are what make it such a good job to do. I met a parent the other day in the street and I’ve been part of that child and families life for 11 years now and we have a real connection and they trust me. People I nursed as children come back with their own children, in fact some of the granny’s we’ve got now I nursed as children.
“I’ve loved my 40 years. Absolutely loved it. I’ve loved being part of this. Loved being part of something that makes a difference, being part of this culture.”
Nursing has not only given Janet a 40 year career – it’s where she met her partner, Trudy.
Janet added: “We both were on a children’s intensive care nursing course and on the first day of the course the tutor told us that we had all been allocated a partner and Trudy Ward was my partner for this. She became my life partner and we have been together 31 years now. We have two children.
“We are not married yet. It was on the agendas for last year. It was going to be the 30 year celebration and be the honeymoon we never had. So once the pandemic’s out of the way, we’ll see what there is.”
Janet is also looking forward to taking up a directorship with Musicians in Healthcare.
She added: “They come in make music in the children’s hospital and elderly care wards. The privilege of watching them work with a baby whose only ever heard the stuff that you hear in an intensive care unit and then they hear live music… it’s just amazing, just amazing. I am going to be on their board moving forwards as a director in a voluntary capacity.
“I’ve had an amazing time but it’s now time for other things.”
Lorraine Tinker, Divisional Head of Nursing – Children’s Services, University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, paid tribute to Janet’s career. She said: “Janet will be missed by everyone in The Alex. She has tirelessly given 40 years NHS service, and mainly all at The Alex, where she started her children’s nurse training in 1981.
“Janet has the touched the lives of so many children and families for whom she has cared for over the decades.
“She has been an inspirational teacher and shaped many healthcare professionals careers over the years and we thank her for that. Her passion and enthusiasm will be greatly missed. We all wish Janet a very happy and well deserved retirement.”