“This is a new opening for us—might a new CEO be more open than the previous? “
–Amanda Pritchard, CEO
National Health Service
Dear Ms Pritchard
First of all, congratulations to you on your appointment as CEO of the National Health Service and all the best in such a challenging post.
We in the Nightingale Society continue to be concerned about misinformation put out about Nightingale, yes, by the NHS. We understand and agree with the NHS’s goal of celebrating black and ethnic minority role models. But we see no point and some harm in the continued promotion of a Jamaican Creole businesswoman, Mary Seacole, commendable as she was as an adventurous traveller, memoirist and generous volunteer, but not remotely a founder of the nursing profession.
The pairing of the two, Nightingale and Seacole, even appeared in the Queen’s Christmas message of 2020. Was that her idea? Or did the NHS give her the words? (this was before your appointment as CEO).
It got worse with the statement of the Prince of Wales on International Nurses Day, 12 May 2021 (again, before your appointment), when he credited Seacole, along with Nightingale, with saving lives by sanitary reform during the Crimean War! Not even Nightingale deserves that credit, although she did assist, especially by installing laundries and purchasing new bedding and clothes for the vermin-infested soldiers who arrived at her hospital. Mrs Seacole was not even in the country when the clean-up occurred! Nor did she mention, in her memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, 1857, the Sanitary Commission, which actually did the work that saved lives. Again, we wonder, did the Prince of Wales make this up himself, or was he given the words?
A letter to the prince asking at what hospitals Seacole ever nursed, what nurses she ever trained or mentored, and what books or articles she ever wrote on nursing received no reply.
Not the least ill consequence of getting this history wrong is that the NHS fails to recognize real, black and minority ethnic nursing leaders. We propose as the leading contender Mrs Kofoworola Abeni Pratt (1915-92), the first black nurse in the NHS in 1948, after being the first black nurse at the Nightingale School, then at St Thomas’ Hospital, in 1946. Mrs Pratt went on to become the first black matron of University College Hospital, Ibadan, the first black chief nurse of Nigeria (posts previously reserved for white, ex-patriate British women, when Nigerians were kept in the menial positions). Pratt went past Nightingale in her final appointment, in effect as Minister of Health for Lagos State (the title was “Commissioner for Health,” one of five Cabinet posts), 1975-77. Herewith a link on her, and a PDF biography is available on the Nightingale Society website: Kofoworola Abeni Pratt: From the First Black Nurse in the NHS to Major Founder of Nursing in Nigeria — The Nightingale Society
We urge you to get the history right: Nightingale was the major founder of professional nursing. Many people deserve credit for the pioneering roles they played in the process, short of founder status. Black and ethnic minority nurses should be celebrated for what they did (they don’t need false praise or fake facts!).
Good to see some new names giving papers, along with well-known presenters, Dave Green and Barbara Dossey. (This event replaces the original.)