THE NHS’s oldest nurse is set to retire at the age of almost 75.

Jean Colclough has been working in Southend Hospital for the last 56 years, despite suffering from a rare lung condition which should have killed her before she was 40.

But now she has decided to leave the health service at the end of December because vagaries in the law mean her pension will be adversely affected if she stays.

Jean said: “My retirement letter was the hardest I have ever had to write. “I was on my own and just sat there and grizzled. I would happily stay on.

“Fifty-six years is a long time. Just stopping is not going to be easy.”

Jean, from Southend, began training as a nurse in September 1956 - the same year as the Suez crisis and Elvis’s hit Heartbreak Hotel.

She wore the traditional uniform of regulation butterfly cap, pale blue dress, white apron and black lace-ups.

However, not long after qualifying in 1960, Jean was diagnosed with the aggressive condition bronchiectasi and her consultant told her she would be a “respiratory cripple” by the age of 30.

Her prognosis was so bad that, even after most of her left lung was removed, she was not expected to live past the age of 40.

But she has proved everyone wrong with her unending stamina and still covers miles and miles of corridors every night as a clinical site coordinator.

Grandmother Jean, who originally wanted to train as a doctor, but could not afford the university fees, said: “I don’t think I could have done better than I have done.

“It’s been lovely – every ward I worked on was the best place I had ever been.”

Despite a well-earned rest beckoning, Jean has not ruled out returning to the hospital as an agency nurse.

She said: “I would certainly consider coming back on the bank. But first we have to move house.”

Friend and colleague Sandra Steeples, hospital discharge coordinator, added: “Jean will be so greatly missed, and I wish I could clone her - and bottle her energy!”