Annual award created in memory of legendary N&N nurse

More tributes have been paid to Betty Lee (pictured). The former Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

More tributes have been paid to Betty Lee (pictured) of the former Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Also pictured in a pin badge for former staff - Credit: Archant/Nurses' League

A new annual nursing award has been created in honour of a long-serving Norfolk nurse who inspired hundreds of others. 

Betty Lee, of Norwich, first began working in nursing at the age of 18. As well as working at the then Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, she became the honorary vice president of the N&N's Nurses League.

Both the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals (NNUH) NHS Foundation Trust and the Nurses League have paid a heartfelt tribute to Miss Lee, who died recently at the age of 96.

Inspirational and charismatic: Former nurse, Betty Lee, died last month at the age of 96

Inspirational and charismatic: Former nurse, Betty Lee, died last month at the age of 96 - Credit: Norwich Nurses League

Her colleagues described her as “a very inspirational and charismatic figure”. 

Mike Surkitt-Parr, Nurses League president, said: “Betty was immensely successful with the enrolled nurse training course and remained in education until her retirement in 1985.   

“During this time, she will have taught and assessed in the clinical areas and in the classroom, countless nurses who went on to have successful nursing careers. 

“Betty was rather frail in the recent past and on occasion was admitted to the hospital. 

“I know some of my colleagues visited her, when permitted, and reported back to us how Betty was doing and how happy she was with her care and treatment and on one occasion had stated that she felt she was being treated like royalty. 

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“Having been a student on the wards when Betty was teaching and working with patients, I can imagine that is exactly how every patient she was caring for herself felt. 

“I think for Betty to have felt like that, in the hospital that she had given so much to and which meant such a very great deal to her, it is a priceless and enduring memory, that we can all hold dear in our many and various recollections of Betty.” 

Miss Lee began her training at the Mile End Hospital in London in 1943. She was unable to apply to the N&N as at the time it did not take women who lived in the city.  

As with all students during their training, Miss Lee had to spend 12 months at an emergency hospital as it was wartime. She was sent to Winchmore Hill, North London, a large hospital that was turned over for emergency work taking in both civilian and service patients as well as German prisoners of war. 

After qualifying as a state registered nurse in 1946 and a year later she undertook her midwifery training. In 1949, she returned to Norwich to take up a relief staff nurse post, followed by a permanent post in the male orthopaedic ward, an area of nursing that had always interested her. Then in 1953, she was promoted to ward sister – a post she held until 1966. 

The Betty Lee Lecture has become an annual event

The Betty Lee Lecture has become an annual event - Credit: Norwich's Nurses League

A statement from the NNUH in tribute to Miss Lee read: “Her enjoyment in imparting her skills and knowledge was clearly recognised by the then matron who in 1967 asked Betty to take on her first teaching role and a very significant role it was. Her remit was to set up the enrolled nurse training for the hospital and Betty undertook her clinical teachers' course between 1969 and 1970. 

“Betty had a long-standing relationship with the Nurses League […] On leaving the trustees she became an honorary vice president. 

“In 2018, the then president of the League, Mary Dolding, proposed the idea of an annual lecture in Betty’s name to recognise, on an ongoing basis, the phenomenal contribution of Betty to nursing, teaching, and indeed the Nurses League.  

“[The same year] the first annual Betty Lee Lecture was delivered at the hospital. Betty attended and spoke at some length at the end of the lecture, expressing her appreciation.” 

Prof Nancy Fontaine, a chief nurse, added: “It was a privilege to meet Betty and hear how her experiences have shaped nursing at our hospital over the years,”  

“In her memory, I will be awarding an annual Betty Lee prize, jointly with our Nurses League, for the best student nurse BSc and MSc dissertations, starting later this year.”