Tribute to Dame Liz Fradd (1949-2024)

In 2002, Dame Liz Fradd was awarded an Honorary FRCPCH in recognition of her enormous contribution to children’s nursing. Professor Sir Alan Craft remembers Dame Liz who remained active until the end of her life. She died on her 75th birthday on 12 May, World Nursing Day,
Photograph of Dame Liz Fradd

Dame Liz Fradd was a leading children’s nurse who became an NHS “troubleshooter” following the conviction of Beverley Allitt, the nurse given 13 life sentences in 1993 for murdering four infants, attempting to murder three others and causing grievous bodily harm to a further six at Grantham and Kesteven Hospital, Lincolnshire. Liz was asked to take over management of the small unit in Grantham where Beverley Allitt had worked to try and restore confidence in the staff and the public. She provided the support and reorganisation needed to restore morale and made arrangements to provide ongoing support.

This led her to work more widely in a “troubleshooting” role in the health service and she remained in great demand where problems arose. In 2000, when the Commission for Health Improvement ( later the CQC ) was formed, she was appointed its nurse director and lead director for its inspection and review programme. During her four years in the role she oversaw some 700 clinical governance reviews and was heavily involved in developing the systems used for the commission’s work.

Dame Liz Fradd was born in Worcester Park, Surrey, the third of four children. Her father, Allen, was a senior Methodist Minister and her mother Harriet a former teacher. She was educated at Farrington’s, a Methodist girls’ boarding school where her father was the school chaplain. She did not enjoy school, was not encouraged academically and felt she was being groomed to be a Methodist minister’s wife.

Nonetheless she scraped sufficient O levels to apply for training as a nurse, and was admitted to the nursing school at Westminster Hospital. After four years, she qualified in adult and children’s nursing, winning the top prize in her year of 88 students.

A chance encounter with the actress Glenda Jackson at a London art gallery led to her working for a year in Spain as a nanny to Ms Jackson's son where they were filming. She and Glenda Jackson remained lifelong friends. Back in London, working at Westminster Children’s Hospital, she soon became a sister working on the ward where children with immune deficiency were being treated with bone marrow transplant and being nursed in sterile bubbles.

One of her patients was Anthony Nolan, a boy born with a rare blood disorder who died in 1979 before a bone marrow donor could be found. She went on to help his parents set up the Anthony Nolan Trust, a charity which runs a international registry of bone marrow donors. She rose rapidly up the nursing hierarchy and was recruited to Nottingham to head up nursing for Professor Sir David Hull, former president of the British Paediatric Association (BPA) in his excellent children’s department.

A Florence Nightingale Scholarship to Australia and New Zealand gave Dame Liz an opportunity to broaden her skills, and on her return to Nottingham she set up a model community children’s nursing service which took the pressure off hospitals and allowed sick children to be cared for at home, a concept then taken up more widely. During this time she had two secondments to the Department of Health. In 1994 at the age of 45 she obtained an MSc in Health Care Policy and Organisation from the University of Nottingham. A year later, she became the Director of Nursing and Education at the NHS Executive West Midlands Regional Office.

In 1999 she was appointed Assistant Chief Nurse at the Department of Health. After retiring from the Commission for Health Improvement, in 2004 she worked as a freelance adviser on health services and continued to take an interest in children’s health as a Trustee for Contact a Family, as an adviser to Action for Sick Children and Vice President of Together for Short Lives, the national charity for children and young people with life limiting diseases. She chaired the Health Visitor Taskforce launched by the government in 2011 and served as a member of the Prime Minister’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery from 2009 and 2010. In 2015 she became a Deputy and later Vice Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire and in 2020-21 served as High Sheriff of Nottingham.

She was a council member of Southwell Cathedral and had a special professorship at the University of Nottingham. She was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing in 2004 and appointed DBE for services to nursing in 2009. She was passionate about her village of Tollerton, Nottinghamshire where she successfully campaigned for road safety measures to protect children. 

Liz remained active until the end of her life, skiing well into her 70s. When asked why she did not simply retire and tend her wonderful garden, she would reply, “You never know what interest and excitement the next opportunity might bring".

Authored by Professor Sir Alan Craft