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Collins, Sheila Margaret (1921–2009), nurse and educationist, was born on 28 August 1921 at 6 Hillcrest Road, Tywyn, near Conwy, Caernarvonshire, the younger daughter of John Collins, assurance superintendent, and his wife, Mary, née Deehan. Her father was from co. Galway, her mother from Denbigh. She was educated at the John Bright Grammar School, Llandudno, achieving matriculation and higher school certificate. She was a Roman Catholic, and her faith sustained her throughout her life. On leaving school she spent some time as a trainee teacher in Deganwy junior school, but, after much thought, decided not to apply to university, but to the London Hospital, Whitechapel, for general nursing training.

Collins began nursing training in 1939 at the London Hospital, undertaking a four-year course: three years to registration, and a further year as a staff nurse in a medical ward to gain the hospital certificate and training school badge. During her training she spent time in sector hospitals in Essex, which gave her valuable experience in caring for people in different settings. In 1944 she left the London Hospital to become a registered sick children's nurse at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. Following this qualification she worked as a staff nurse, theatre sister, and ward sister, giving care and comfort to sick children and their families before in 1949–50 undertaking the one-year sister tutor diploma of the University of London, at the Royal College of Nursing.

After working as a tutor at Great Ormond Street, in 1953 Collins returned to the London Hospital as a tutor, and after four years was appointed an assistant matron. These varied experiences consolidated her views that teaching and learning for nursing staff took place in both the school and the clinical environments. In 1960 she was appointed principal tutor—the title changing over the years during subsequent health service reorganizations. This position of head of the school of nursing, and later midwifery, she retained until her retirement in 1981.

A scholarship awarded by the British Red Cross Society in 1965 to study the nursing curricula in Canada and the United States of America enabled Collins both to study the development of nursing in other countries and to formulate her own ideas on nursing education in England. Under her innovative leadership there were many changes in the school. A tutorial system was established. Tutors worked in a team, and the student or pupil had the same tutor throughout the course, who could assess, teach, and provide appropriate support to the learner. New schemes were developed, for example the pupil nurse scheme for state enrolment and a home nursing certificate, and the degree-associated course for state registration, which both began in 1968. Plans for a new school building were developed during 1965–6, and the school opened in 1967. The London Hospital school of nursing, the Mile End Hospital school, and St Clement's school were grouped to form the Princess Alexandra School of Nursing in January 1970. Curricula were developed for new courses for students, such as the four-year integrated state registered nurse/registered mental nurse scheme, and for the ongoing education of the trained staff of the hospitals, as well as courses in post-basic specialities such as theatres, intensive therapy, and renal nursing. These courses were developed prior to the establishment of the Joint Board of Clinical Nursing Studies.

Because of her recognized expertise in nursing education, and her ability to consider carefully proposals before taking decisive action, Collins was invited to participate in many national and international nursing organizations. She had been an enthusiastic member of the Royal College of Nursing since 1948, and became a council member, vice-chairman (1960–68), chair of council (1968–70), and deputy president (1973). She was chair of the college's education committee for the UK for seven years. She also became a member of the Joint Board of Clinical Nursing Studies. She was a member of a number of working parties, for example, the Department of Health and Social Security working party (1968–9) reporting on the state of nursing education, which eventually led to the establishment of the Briggs committee (1970–72), of which she was also a member. She travelled widely across the country to talk about and discuss the Briggs committee's recommendations, which eventually led to the Nurses, Midwives, and Health Visitors Act of 1979, and the establishment of new statutory bodies. Collins later became a member of the English National Board for Nursing, Midwifery, and Health Visiting, and the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery, and Health Visiting, helping to build on these recommendations. At an international level she was pleased to be a member of the EEC's advisory committee on nursing education, which meant visiting Brussels, and a chance to practise her French. She also enjoyed being a delegate of the United Kingdom at International Council of Nurses congresses. She was recognized for her contribution and services to nursing education, being appointed OBE in 1975, and elected a fellow of the Royal College of Nursing in 1977.

Collins was interested in and appreciative of the work undertaken by St Joseph's Hospice, Hackney, and became a member, and later chair, of the management board, remaining a member and friend of the hospice for many years. She was also a member and vice-chair of Bromley Health Authority. She had an obvious interest in education, including her own. In 1974 she graduated BA from the Open University, following four years of part-time study at weekends and in the evenings. In 1989 she submitted a doctoral thesis on ‘Curriculum innovations in six English nursing schools collaborating with institutions of higher or advanced further education’, for which she obtained a PhD degree from the University of Surrey.

Collins delighted in the support and love of her family and friends. She shared a flat for many years, until her death, with her great friend and companion Lilian Helen Margaret Collyer, whom she first met on the Royal College of Nursing tutor course in 1949. They entered into a civil partnership in 2007. Friends met in their home for good food, gossip, and an exchange of views and opinions. Collins found time for many interests and hobbies, including cooking, painting, reading, the theatre, and opera. She enjoyed attending, then hearing about, the London Hospital League of Nurses, of which she had been president, then vice-president for life. She was passionate about history, and attended, while she was still able to travel, the History of Nursing Group meetings at the Royal College of Nursing. She co-authored, with Edith R. Parker, An Introduction to Nursing (1983; 2nd edn as The Essentials of Nursing, 1987) and wrote brief histories of the Nurses' League (1981) and the Royal London Hospital (1995), and co-authored (again with Edith Parker) a history of nursing and midwifery education in the Royal London Hospital (1998).

Collins died on 13 March 2009 of congestive cardiac failure, at the Princess Royal University Hospital, Farnborough, Kent. Following a requiem mass of celebration at the Church of St Joseph, Bromley, on 31 March 2009, she was cremated at Beckenham crematorium. She was survived by her civil partner, (Lilian) Helen Collyer.

Edith R. Parker


Nursing Mirror (24 March 1982) · The Independent (27 April 2009) · including transcript of interview, 25 Aug 1999, Royal College of Nursing Archives, Edinburgh, T/215 · Royal London Hospital archives · personal knowledge (2013) · private information (2013) · b. cert. · d. cert.


Royal College of Nursing, including transcript of interview, 25 Aug 1999, T/215 · Royal London Hospital

Wealth at death  

£372,391: probate, 19 June 2009, CGPLA Eng. & Wales