Four items, the first cheerful! Then two letters to co-sign: please reply to email@example.com and say OKAY to one or both if you agree.
1. Rowan Williams, master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and former Archbishop of Canterbury has a new book coming out in August, Luminaries—Twenty Lives that Illuminate the Christian Way (SPCK), with a chapter on Nightingale, along with St Paul, Teresa of Avila, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Oscar Romero.
2. Herewith another letter on the ongoing saga of Mary Seacole as a leader in the NHS, by the secretary of state for health, Matt Hancock, who is now running for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and thus prime minister. The House of Commons is still sitting , so, if we act fast, we could send him the letter below, and copy it to all MPs.
Rt Hon Matt Hancock, MP
Secretary of State for Health
Dear Mr Hancock
Re: “The NHS is a huge employer of women—I want it to be one of the best as well”
(The Guardian 25 April 2019)
Your Opinion piece raises a worthy point—the NHS is a major employer of women and it would, desirably, be a good employer of women. However, we do not see how you serve that cause by equating the work of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole—your opening line!Please tell us what Mary Seacole did for nursing, the NHS and modern health care. We know her as a remarkable Jamaican businesswoman who ran a restaurant/bar/takeaway/catering service for officers during the Crimean War, and afterwards retired in England. She was a fine and independent woman and left an excellent memoir of her life, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands. A careful look at it will show a remarkable life, characterised by generosity and charm, but nothing on hospitals, nursing or health care.
- Where and when did Seacole nurse, train or mentor nurses?
- What did she write on nursing?
- What on education for women and raising the status of women?
Florence Nightingale gave much of her life to establishing the profession of nursing, and much, further, to making hospitals safer, turning the dreaded workhouse infirmaries into regular hospitals, and indeed she set out the core principle of the NHS in the course: quality care for all, regardless of ability to pay. Nightingale worked for years also on education for women, better jobs, safer jobs (the term “sexual harassment” was not used then, but it existed) and the vote and political rights for women.
Diversity is an issue to address, but why not flag the work of genuine BAME nurses and other health care employees? Are you aware of the enormous contribution of Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, the first black nurse in the NHS? Why does the Department of Health and the NHS ignore her?
Finally, are you aware that the NHS, NHS Leadership Academy and NHS Employers are all sources of misinformation on Seacole?
3. The Royal College of Midwives has a brief but erroneous section on its website: Who was Mary Seacole? “Mary Seacole, a Jamaican Scottish nurse and businesswoman, was a celebrated Victorian heroine due to her bravery in nursing soldiers in the Crimean War (1853-1856)”….. it then goes on to describe the awards. Proposed reply:
During the Crimean War, Mary Seacole ran a restaurant/bar/takeaway/catering service for officers. She did not nurse soldiers, nor did she claim to. She kindly visited the Land Transport Corps Hospital near her business, distributed donated magazines there and, on New Year’s Day 1856, brought mince tarts for the patients. Soon after her arrival, before her business opened, she gave out hot tea to soldiers waiting for transport to the general hospitals in Turkey. This was greatly appreciated, but is hardly what we mean by “nursing.” She did go out onto the battlefield on three occasions (she missed the first three, major, battles of the war). Again, this demonstrates kindness and practical relief, but nothing akin to the gruelling work of hospital nursing. “heroine” and “bravery” are exaggerations. Mrs Seacole’s (brief) sorties on the battlefield were post-battle. She wore Crimean War medals post-war, but in her book never claimed to have won any, and the picture of her on the cover shows no medals.
Your website statement is short, but erroneous. Mrs Seacole deserves celebration for many things, but we are unaware of any connection with midwifery. Or can you tell us where she trained and/or worked as a midwife? Wrote on midwifery?
A small point: you even get the dates of the Crimean War wrong—they are 1854-56, and Seacole herself only arrived in 1855.
4. Dr Clare Price-Dowd sent the following reply to our letter to her.
Dear Lynn and fellow signatories
Thank you for your letter outlining your concerns. Stephen Hart will reply personally to you as well.
I have considered your points raised and share my thoughts in response to you as follows.
Firstly, as the article states, these are my personal reflections on people that have inspired me. The list is bullet pointed, not ‘ranked’ as you state, it could have been in any order so Mary Seacole is not the ‘top choice’ she just happens to be the first name. The choices reflect people who have had an impact on me through their legacy and are not the espoused position of the Leadership Academy, nor does the article state this.
I have said that the list is ‘about some of the great leaders in nursing’. Many who have contributed greatly to our profession have done so from outside disciplines such as psychology and medicine, and for centuries nursing was informal. I feel it is important to acknowledge this especially in relation to Mary Seacole. Mary Seacole has always been a controversial figure. I see her as using ‘nursing skills’, which is what she did. She was not a qualified nurse, nor is she stated as such. However, to me, she represents those skills needed by nurses every day such as tenacity and resilience. It is undisputed that she supported people in need and has been recognised nationally and internationally for her contributions including being voted the most influential black British person in a poll in 2004.
So much has been written about Florence Nightingale and I stand by the statement that she is the epitome of what most people see as a nurse. There is so much that could have been written that the decision to state her skill as a statistician who applied theories and models was a conscious one. At this period in history, women in science were very scarce, her skill in this area is often overlooked so worthy of highlighting her as a role model for what today are considered STEM careers.
With regard to Edith Cavell, my first staff nurse role, back in 1986 was on the Edith Cavell Ward of Nottingham City Hospital. Learning about Edith from that time on has influenced me to live the 6 Cs and especially Courage and Compassion. I don’t think because someone had a life cut short they should be exempt from being considered an inspirational leader. In fact, Edith Cavell was 49 when she was executed and had been nursing for 19 years during which time she had demonstrated great leadership.
Kofoworola Abeni Pratt I have always been inspired by and her inclusion, I note, is viewed positively so no further comment is necessary.
As stated previously, these are my personal inspirations. 100 nurses would have 100 different answers for whom they see as pioneers ranging from some of these listed above to the first ward sister they worked with. I am sure that all the signatories to this letter would have their own lists. We find our inspiration in many places; these four women are where I have found mine.
I am happy to continue this debate with you.
Dr Clare Price Dowd
Head of Evaluation and Patient Experience
NHS Leadership Academy