|The Nightingale Society|
|Newsletter||19 May 2013|
RCN and the Department of Health
A new awards programme announced in the Nursing Standard goes beyond what the RCN has done before in promoting Seacole over Nightingale. The programme names Seacole as a “healthcare hero” and the link describing her is extreme in its erroneous “facts,” crediting her with being “a pioneer of modern nursing,” providing “practical, compassionate care to frontline troops” not only in the Crimea but “around the world” (no countries mentioned and none known of). She “pushed the frontiers of emergency care, skilfully caring for soldiers during the deadliest outbreaks of cholera” and even “under open fire,” claims she never made, and for which there is zero evidence.
Mary Seacole was a businesswoman, a honourable person who deserves better than to be hijacked for a political correctness campaign. She ran a restaurant/bar/takeaway and catering service for officers during the Crimean War. (Perhaps the RCN is giving subtle approval to the privatization of the NHS?) On several occasions she gave first aid on the battlefield, post battle. She never claimed to be “under open fire,” and in fact she missed the three greatest battles of the war as she was in London attending (unsuccessfully) to her gold-mining stocks. Her “British Hotel” referred to was a proposal Seacole announced to officers, geared to convalescent care for officers. In fact, on the advice of chef Alexis Soyer, she never built it but provided restaurant/bar/takeaway and catering instead, all to officers.
Ordinary soldiers were indeed in “cramped and dirty conditions” in the trenches, a concern Florence Nightingale took up, and succeeded in getting much improved food, clothing and shelter for them (their conditions were much better in the second year of the war). Seacole did not give “much needed respite care to sick and wounded troops,” but ran her restaurant, etc., for officers.
The omission of Nightingale and linking of Seacole with Nye Bevan, the minister who brought in the National Health Service, also shows how little known Nightingale’s own role was in the establishment of health care for all. She began, in 1864, to campaign for quality care to be available to those least able to pay as well as those who could. Her work gradually resulted in the upgrading of the dreaded workhouse infirmaries, the “hospitals” to which the poor had to resort, as they could not pay the fees of the regular hospitals pre-NHS.
Interestingly, biographer Mark Bostridge recognized Nightingale as one of the “architects” of public health care at the Nightingale anniversary service at Westminster Abbey on 8 May. It seems the RCN does not know that she articulated the vision and worked mightily to achieve the first steps toward it. Seacole played no role in the provision of health care services, in Britain or elsewhere.
We have sent a letter to Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, outlining our concerns: it can be read here.
Also, anyone who sees new mis-information, on the radio, television or in print, I would appreciate quick notification. For print sources a letter-to-the-editor might work (but one has to reply quickly).
Nursing Week and Nightingale events
London. The Westminster Abbey annual service of commemoration of Florence Nightingale was held May 8, sponsored by the Florence Nightingale Foundation. Congratulations to Dr Liz Robb and her team for (again) putting on a splendid occasion. Biographer Mark Bostridge gave the address, which was superb, notably linking Nightingale to the vision of the National Health Service.
A service was held on the same date at Derry, Northern Ireland, for which details are currently lacking. On May 18 there was one in Derby Cathedral, with the Royal Derby Hospital choir, and a procession of nurses with a band. The bishop of Derby in his address praised Nightingale’s ability to believe that “new things can be done.” The dean of the cathedral in his welcoming remarks noted Nightingale’s role in “pre-figuring the National Health Service.” Right on!
Natasha McEnroe, director of the Florence Nightingale Museum and I both spoke at the Gothic Warehouse, a historic canal warehouse now used for events, in the evening, an event sponsored by the Arkwright Society. Thanks to Natasha for the picture of the (temporary) Nightingale plaque at Derby Cathedral.
My trip, now near its end, has gone well, with visits to Claydon House, for the archives, and to Manchester to meet with senior nursing leaders, and small meetings with people with different Nightingale involvements, notably biographer Mark Bostridge and Indian special Dr Marc Jason Gilbert. Some new letters have become available at the British Library, always a treat, and a new letter at a hospital website surfaced.
The good news. It is terrific to welcome our first member from New Zealand, a retired “intensivist” (intensive care specialist) who has offered to assist with nursing contacts, as well as being a fund of information on Nightingale links in the medical literature.We welcome also our first Northern Ireland member, Joan Thompson, who was herself a “Nightingale nurse,” meaning that she trained at the Nightingale School at St Thomas’ Hospital, then to have her nursing career in Belfast. Thanks to her also for offering to make contact for us with Irish nurses, both in the republic and in the north.
Member Dr Marc Jason Gilbert, who works on Nightingale and India, is president of the World History Association and has offered to help with raising issues of the “falsification of history.”
Progress on old issues: Dr Eileen Magnello and I submitted our first formal complaint to the BBC on its erroneous coverage of Nightingale and Seacole. These are not the only examples, but our start! See it at