To Andrew Lansley, Health Secretary

Dear Mr Lansley

We are writing with concern about the decision made by the Guy’s-St Thomas’ NHS Trust board of directors to approve the use of a “prestigious” site at St Thomas’ for the placement of a statue honouring Mary Seacole. We do not at all oppose the honouring of Mrs Seacole with a statue, but its placement at St Thomas’, Nightingale’s hospital.

The decision was made with flagrant disregard of due process. The then chair of the board was Patricia Moberly, a government appointee (by a previous government). Experts were not consulted, nor were the governors or staff consulted or even informed. The Nightingale Fellowship, whose members were trained at St Thomas’ when it was the home of the Nightingale School, was similarly excluded.

  • 23 November 2005, a note from the chair, Patricia Moberly, for the directors meeting, reports the approach by the Seacole Statue Appeal and agreement “that we should explore without commitment the possibility of a position on the St Thomas’ site,” the board to be informed “as the discussions progress.”
  • 25 April 2007, at a board meeting, the director of Capital, Estates and Facilities (hardly an expert on the history of nursing) asked for and received approval for the celebration of the nursing work of both Seacole and Nightingale, although there was still to be exploration as to the “viability” of the development.
  • 23 January 2008, at a board meeting the decision was announced as a fait accompli: “commitment to support a Mary Seacole statue at St Thomas’”.

The current hospital board has added to the violation of due process by issuing blatantly false information used in support of the earlier board’s decision (see below).

The placement of the statue at St Thomas’ was approved by the Lambeth Planning Committee at a meeting 12 April 2012, however at this meeting no consideration was given to the merits of honouring Seacole there, any connection she might have had with the hospital (none); only purely technical matters were allowed, and there were no technical objections. Some of us sent letters of objection to the planning officer, but these were dismissed, reasonably enough, as not pertinent to the committee’s terms of reference.

We have appealed to the current chair of the board of directors, Sir Hugh Taylor, but he simply ignores letters objecting to a decision made by his predecessor and an earlier board. Two of us had a meeting with him early in April 2012, but he seemed quite unfamiliar with our objections, even to the misinformation campaign–he preferred simply to go along with the earlier decision.

In addition to St Thomas’ being the home base for Nightingale’s work on nursing, she substantially influenced the design of the 19th century hospital, when it was a pioneer of the pavilion, safer, mode of hospital construction. (Three of the pavilions still stand: the others were destroyed in World War II and the new hospital is of the current high-right design).

Placement of the statue opposite the Houses of Parliament compounds the insult to Nightingale, who got two royal commissions established, greatly contributed to their work, wrote a brief for a major Parliamentary committee on workhouse infirmaries, and influenced Cabinet ministers and MPs on numerous matters of public health. As concerns about hospital safety and good patient care continue to be salient matters of public policy, it would be well to have her gaze at the Houses of Parliament unimpeded by a replacement, who did none of those things.

We note that Seacole herself had no grudge against Nightingale and made no claim to have pioneered nursing. We note that alternative sites have been suggested and are available for a Seacole statue, that do not disregard Nightingale’s great work and its home base.

We urge that you direct the Guy’s-St Thomas’ board of directors to withdraw the offer of a site for the Seacole statue at St Thomas’, withdraw the false statements it made to justify that offer, and issue a corrected statement to explain why the site is inappropriate for the purpose of honouring Seacole.