Experts call for serious rethink of Seacole statue

Nightingale Society press release, 13 July 2015

London: St Thomas’ Hospital is destined for embarrassment if the plan goes ahead to erect an imposing statue of so-called “Pioneer Nurse” Mary Seacole on the hospital grounds facing the Houses of Parliament, say members of the Nightingale Society. They agree that it is laudable to honour minority nurses, but Seacole was not a nurse.

The Society has sent strongly worded letters raising questions about Seacole to the Chair and CEO of the Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Sir Hugh Taylor and Sir Ron Kerr. The statue, it says, risks becoming known as “Hugh and Ron’s Folly.”

The Nightingale Society was formed in 2012 to promote the work of Florence Nightingale and defend her reputation and is particularly concerned about the proposed site of the Seacole statue. It was at St. Thomas that the first nursing school was founded by Nightingale in 1860. She wrote briefs for, and met with, Cabinet members and MPs over a period of decades to promote nursing, hospital reform and public health care. Seacole had no influence in Parliament nor impact on the national health policy.

In fact, Seacole was a businesswoman with a background in herbal remedies. During the Crimean War, she ran a bar/restaurant and catering service for officers. She was a volunteer magazine distributor at the hospital near her business and was known to be kind to all. On three occasions she gave first aid on the field post-battle–commendable acts, the Society points out, but they do not constitute what is normally considered as nursing.

It notes that neither the Trust Chair or CEO, nor the Royal College of Nursing, NHS Employers, nor the Department of Health will say what Seacole did that was pioneering, or even nursing. She is not known to have nursed a day in any hospital.

The Society’s proposal that other worthy, black and minority nurses be honored has received no answer. For example, the work of Nigerian Nightingale nurse Kofoworola Abeni Pratt could be celebrated “without caution.” She was a genuine pioneer of professional nursing in Nigeria.

Since full funding for the statue has not been raised, the society has asked who will pay for the funding gap if the statue goes ahead. Neither the Trust Chair or CEO, the NHS director, nor the secretary of state for health will say. They agree that health care money should not be diverted for such purposes.

The Nightingale Society’s four experts are available for interview and questions: all enquiries to please.