Muriel Powell was born in Ruspidge in 1914 and brought up in Cinderford. There is a Foresters’ Forest memorial plaque to her at Cinderford Clock Tower, inscribed ‘A British Nurse Ahead of her Time’.

Plaque on Cinderford Clock Tower (Supplied)

She went away from the Forest to St George’s Hospital, London as a 20 year old, to work as a nurse, and became the most famous nurse since Florence Nightingale.

She qualified as a State Registered Nurse in 1936. She then undertook midwifery training at St. George's Hospital in London and then in Gloucestershire, working at the emergency maternity hospital at Potslip Hall near Winchcombe, and acquiring registered midwife and nurse tutor qualifications. There were more academic nursing qualifications from London University, the Central Midwives Board and Battersea College of Technology (now the University of Surrey). Muriel was appointed sister tutor at Ipswich Borough General Hospital in 1943 and principal tutor at Manchester Royal Infirmary in 1946.

In 1947 she returned to St George’s Hospital as Matron, a controversial appointment at the time as she was only 32 years old as there were some in the medical hierarchy who thought that matrons should be much older than this.

She was the matron who enabled patients to remain asleep in bed in hospital until seven o'clock in the morning. The radical practice of considering the needs of the patients was unfamiliar to some hospital managers. Previously patients in hospital were unceremoniously wakened at 5 or 6am for the convenience of nursing staff changing shifts at that time in the early morning. This simple concession for the sick in hospital, caught the public imagination through the popular press.

Muriel became well known throughout the 1960s to radio audiences for her wise and sensible responses to enquiries concerning sickness, health care and the National Health Service. She wrote the pioneering nursing book ‘Patients are People: Nursing as a Career, My Life and Work’, a humane and very patient-focussed approach to hospital care, which put the needs of the patient above the convenience of medical staff. She was an inspirational leader who was a leading member of a National Health Service Review (the Salmon Review) that advocated such things as management training, consistency in nursing standards and the reforming of salary scales.

Muriel Powell was a nurse, midwife, teacher, broadcaster and writer, who helped to make the NHS a better organisation, and she was awarded the CBE in 1962 and became a Dame in 1968.

After 22 years as matron at St George’s Hospital, Muriel was appointed Chief Nursing Officer for the Scottish Home and Health Department.

After her outstanding career in nursing this appointment was a sad end to her career. She developed a sort of dementia that gradually made her uncommunicative, most unlike her earlier personality, and eventually she had to retire. She retired to Newnham, and died a couple of years later in 1978, aged 64. There was a memorial event held at St John’s Church, Cinderford in 2004 to celebrate the life of Dame Muriel Powell, pioneering health worker.