"POOR pay, poor working conditions, little respect from the public and long hours."

This description of the lot of nurses today is not des-igned to shock. It is simply something Eirlys Warring-ton would tell anyone emb-arking on a career in nursing in 2002. But neither is it intended to discourage.

"There's no point denying that pay and working conditions aren't what they should be and that nursing is very demanding," she said.

"In many ways I think this is the worst time ever for nurses. But the opportunity is there to make real improvements and ultimately bring in better care for patients."

Mrs Warrington has been a nurse for more than 40 years, 30 of those in Gwent. She is also the Royal College of Nursing's lead steward in Gwent, most recently chairman of the RCN's Welsh Board.

Tomorrow she retires as Gwent's clinical nurse specialist in HIV and AIDS, though she has 18 months to go in her RCN role.

"It has been an immensely rewarding career, but I don't think I'll have any difficulty moving on," said Mrs Warrington, a passionate advocate of nurses' collective role in the NHS.

"Nursing is still the oil that enables the machine to function, but I think it has lost some credibility.

"That is not down to nurses. The public expects too much of them, mainly because of the Patient's Charter, which gave people an idea of what they could expect from doctors and nurses, but not what we can expect from them.

"Nurses get attacked by the public, and occasionally the government, and managers are not always responsive to their needs."

Training and funding are also key concerns.

"People who want to be nurses are expected to do well academically but the funding is not there.

"Nurse training in Wales is going down the all-degree route by 2003, which is a good thing, but nurses without a degree will be disadvantaged. There needs to be funding for existing nurses to get degrees if they want to.

"It is then a question of pay, because if you get a degree you are going to expect a starting salary above £20,000 and starting salaries for nurses are well below that."

Mrs Warrington said there was resistance among NHS administrators to Wales' all-degree training route, but she is convinced it is the right path.

"I think some of them want us to remain as skivvies and handmaidens but times have changed," she said.

"We need to go down the all-degree route - nurses need the skills to access and use research better and do research themselves.

"All of this should lead to better care for patients, which is what this profession is all about."