Newsletter 2021:05

From Lynn McDonald, project director | May 15, 2021

Nightingale’s Birthday, but with more setbacks, from on high (see good news later)

The letter below to the Prince of Wales is self-explanatory. Thanks to Ian Whitehouse and Mark Bostridge for alerting me to the stories in the newspapers. Please reply ‘Co-sign’ if you wish to add your name to the list.

HRH the Prince of Wales
Highgrove House, Doughton, Tetbury GL8 8TN
12 May 2021

Your Royal Highness

You were so right about climate change when so few saw the crisis, but you wrong, very wrong, in your statement in The Times making Mary Seacole a joint expert on hygiene with Florence Nightingale, so that together they saved lives in the Crimean War. No! Nor did Mrs Seacole, a fine person, successful businesswoman, generous volunteer and fine memoirist, ever claim anything of the kind. Her book, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, 1857, recounts her travels and her businesses, with several chapters (XIII to XVI) on the food and wine she served to officers during the war. In it, she even admitted to making “lamentable blunders” in her “herbal” preparations, presumably referring to her adding lead and mercury, both toxic metals, to them (Chapter IV). These act to dehydrate a person with bowel disease, when re-hydration is what is needed.

Whether you wrote the errors or they were given to you to say, they consist in “fake facts” and we wish you to know that. Sadly, HM the Queen demoted Nightingale and promoted Seacole in her Christmas message, 2020, making Nightingale a “nursing pioneer” like Seacole.

That you made these wrongful remarks at St Bartholomew’s Hospital only adds to the wrong. It was Florence Nightingale who sent the first trained matron and staff of nurses to that hospital to get professional nursing started (it was much behind St Thomas’ Hospital, where her school was located).

Nurses certainly deserve celebration for their hard and courageous work during this pandemic. But the pandemic itself reminds us of the ongoing relevance of Nightingale’s contribution. It was her pioneer statistical work, done with experts after the Crimean War that identified what reforms worked to bring down the high death rates. That is exactly what we need to know now to identify what works best in treatments for COVID-19 and what measures of prevention lead to lower rights of infection and death.

It was Nightingale who was the great advocate of hygiene (name one sentence Seacole ever wrote on the subject!). Ventilation, cleanliness, sunlight, fresh air, adequate spacing and frequent handwashing all feature in her work from her Notes on Nursing in 1860 on.

Diversity and inclusion are proper objects for the National Health Service and for you to assist by promoting them. But the NHS seems to have missed a superb black nursing leader who would be an ideal black/minority role model, Kofoworola Abeni Pratt (1915-92), who went on from being the first black nurse in the NHS in 1948, to lead in establishing professional nursing in her home country, Nigeria on her return there. She trained at the Nightingale School for she was inspired by her. She in turn became the first black matron at University College Hospital, Ibadan (replacing a white British expatriate) and then on to being chief nursing officer for Nigeria, the largest country in Africa and sixth largest in the world. She then went on to another “first,” the first nurse to become a Cabinet minister in charge of health, in Lagos State, 1973-75. On that accomplishment, she passed Nightingale, who wrote and lobbied Cabinet ministers but never became one.

On Mrs Pratt, see Kofoworola Abeni Pratt: From the First Black Nurse in the NHS to Major Founder of Nursing in Nigeria — The Nightingale Society.

Yours sincerely,

Copies to the Rt Hon Boris Johnson, prime minister; the Rt Hon Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health; Sir Simon Stevens, CEO, the National Health Service.

Good News: Florence Nightingale Museum in London to re-open in June

And congratulations to David Green, director, on being short-listed for recognition for a Museum and Heritage award.

Westminster Abbey service on Nightingale re-scheduled for November 10

[Advance notice]

“Florence Nightingale Comes Home”

Richard Bates reports that their “Florence Nightingale Comes Home” exhibition is finally reopening at Lakeside Arts next week! Good to see this, a postponed event. Tickets can be booked: here. To begin with it will be open Thursday-Sunday, and advance booking is required.

Zoom meeting of the North American Nightingale Society

Yes, we have a branch that has met in person, in Toronto, and now meets by Zoom, with members in Toronto; Ottawa; San Francisco; Dayton, Ohio; and Maryland. It met on May 11 to make plans for ongoing recognition of Nightingale. It is exploring ways to get an annual Florence Nightingale Lecture, based in North America, established.