The role of matron in the early British National Health Service (NHS) was to be the most senior nurse in the hospital. The matron was responsible for all of the nurses and domestic staff, overseeing all patient care, and the efficient running of the hospital, although they rarely had real power over the strategic running of the hospital. Matrons were almost invariably female -- male nurses were not at all common, especially in senior positions. They were often seen as fearsome administrators but were respected by nurses and doctors alike. The role of the matron was abolished in the late 60s as part of the reorganisation recommended by the Salmon report. The NHS matron became memorably associated with the formidable character played by the late actress Hattie Jacques in the 1967 film Carry on Doctor.
More recently, the British government announced the return of the matron to the NHS, electing to call this new breed of nurses "modern matrons", in response to various press complaints of dirty, ineffective hospitals with poorly disciplined staff
They are not intended to have the same level of responsibility as the old matrons, as they often oversee just one department (therefore a hospital may have many matrons - one for surgery, one for medicine, one for geriatrics, one for the accident & emergency department, etc.) but do have budgetry control regarding catering and cleaning contracts.
Their managerial powers are more limited, and they spend most of their time on administrative work rather than having direct patient care
The medical branches of the British Armed Forces have never abandoned the term "Matron", and it is used for male as well as female officers.
Institutions such as children's homes and workhouses were also run by matrons. The matron of a workhouse was very often the wife of the master and looked after the domestic affairs of the establishment. This was, in fact, the original meaning of the term. Its use in hospitals was borrowed from workhouses.
The term was also used in boarding schools (and is still used in some British public schools) for the woman in charge of domestic affairs in a boarding house or the school nurse. In the past, the matron was sometimes the wife of the housemaster.