Archive for April, 2020

To Baroness Scotland, re history of nursing

Rt Hon Baroness Scotland, QC
Director-general, Commonwealth Secretariat
Marlborough House, Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5HX

April 2020

Dear Baroness Scotland

We are concerned about your remarks at the conference of the Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives Federation March 6. The World Health Organization chose 2020 for the Year of the Year of the Nurse and Midwife precisely because of that year being the bicentenary of Nightingale’s birth. Yet, in your remarks you included Mary Seacole along with Florence Nightingale, as if she had made any kind of similar contribution. You made three such references, as if equals, and indeed your third reference gave precedence to Seacole. She was an interesting, independent and generous person, and her business for officers much appreciated. What exactly, we ask, did Seacole do as a founder either of nursing or midwifery. Specifically, kindly state:

You referred to Nightingale and Seacole together three times, as if equals, and indeed your third reference gave precedence to Seacole. Kindly say (also for colleagues) what exactly Seacole did as a founder either of nursing or midwifery. She was an interesting and generous person, and her business for officers much appreciated, but do say:

  • At what hospital(s) she ever nursed
  • What nurses she trained or mentored
  • To what countries did she sent nursing leaders
  • What books, articles or chapters she produced on either nursing or midwifery.

Seacole’s three forays onto the battlefield post-battle are documented—yes, kind acts, but so did many people perform such kind acts and they are not credited as founders of the nursing profession. She distributed magazines (donated by officers and their wives) to the hospital close to her business, and took the patients there mince tarts on New Year’s Day 1855. Again, kind acts, but hardly close to what Nightingale did.

In Seacole’s fine memoir, it is clear that she was running a business. She never called herself a “nurse,” but did use the expression “doctress, nurse and mother”; “nurse” she used for Nightingale and her nurses. She described her “remedies,” and also acknowledged that she made “lamentable blunders,” and certainly the addition of lead and mercury would qualify.

In short, your assessment of Seacole’s contribution reflects the common propaganda for her, which is not based on fact. It is unacceptable that you should foist your personal opinion at a Commonwealth event to which you were invited for your position as secretary general.

Not the least of the harms done by the Seacole propaganda campaign is the failure to recognize significant BAME nursing leaders. A prime example is Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, a Nigerian (Nigeria is in the Commonwealth), who trained at the Nightingale School in London, then led in the introduction of professional nursing by Nigerians in Nigeria.

Yours sincerely

[ 17 members of the Nightingale Society ]

To Matt Hancock, re coronavirus and the bicentenary

Rt Hon Matt Hancock, MP
Secretary of State for Health
April 2020

Dear Mr Hancock

We wish you well in your own responsibilities in the coronavirus pandemic, and in your own situation.

In this the Bicentenary year of Florence Nightingale’s birth, declared the Year of the Nurse and Midwife by the World Health Organization, we wish to see concrete, ongoing, recognition of her important contributions. She was not only as the major founder of the modern nursing profession and a hospital reformer, but as a pioneer of evidence-based health care and an early advocate of universal access to (quality) health care. She was the first person to articulate the principles of the National Health Service, of access to quality care for all, without regard to ability to pay.

Naming the temporary coronavirus NHS hospital after Nightingale makes so much sense. However, we want to see ongoing recognition of her great contribution, such as in naming a permanent building after her and/or an annual lecture.

We seek recognition of her legacy also in the nursing leaders she inspired. This would be an ideal time to honour the first black nurse in the NHS, Kofoworola Abeni Pratt (1915-85), herself a Nightingale nurse who chose the Nightingale School for her training because of her regard for Nightingale. She began training in 1946, and was, in 1948, on the launching of the NHS, its first black nurse. Yet nurses do not know this, even nurses at the current Nightingale Faculty, housed now at King’s College, London.

These are not either/or proposals. Mrs “Rola” Pratt carried on Nightingale’s work. She was the major founder of professional nursing in Nigeria, which in turn influenced the development of nursing in Africa generally. We call on you to recognize both.

Yours sincerely

[19 members of the Nightingale Society]