The legacy of Florence Nightingale, the first professional nurse
Florence Nightingale was a pioneer in nursing and social care. Today, her work is more relevant to the Red Cross and the public than ever
Everyone knows Florence Nightingale as the founder of modern nursing. But in 2020, now 200 years after she was born and also the year of the coronavirus pandemic, her work is more important than ever.
The importance of hand washing, professional nursing and caring for everyone equally - these ideas brought to life by Nightingale are still vital today. And this is especially true during the Covid-19 pandemic.
She recognised immediately how important it is to wash your hands
Florence Nightingale famously led a group of nurses to care for British soldiers wounded in the Crimean War in 1854. To see her patients during the darkest nights, Nightingale carried a lamp as she walked among their beds. After that, she became known as ‘The Lady with the Lamp
When Nightingale and her nurses arrived at the military hospital, they were shocked at the terrible conditions. They immediately started to clean every room and Nightingale told her nurses to wash their hands often. Now we know that hand washing is one of the best ways to stop the spread of coronavirus and other diseases.
With her guidance, nursing became a profession
By 1860, Florence Nightingale had established the world’s first professional nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. The Nightingale School of nursing raised the reputation of nursing as a profession and had a global impact. She also helped design the wards by proposing full-height windows to let in more light and fresh air.
A hundred and forty years later, the UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson, was treated at St Thomas’ Hospital when he became seriously ill with coronavirus.
Nightingale’s principles and support helped to found the British Red Cross and keep it going
Florence Nightingale agreed with one of the Red Cross’ fundamental principles: neutrality. As Nightingale said, “Suffering lifts its victim above normal values. While suffering endures there is neither good nor bad, valuable nor invaluable, enemy nor friend. The victim has passed to a region beyond human classification or moral judgements and his suffering is a sufficient claim”.
Nightingale went on to support the foundation of the British Red Cross in 1870, and gave advice on nursing and running hospitals. She was also a member of the young organisation’s Ladies’ Committee.
The British Red Cross is now helping people across the UK who are feeling the impact of Covid-19. This is possible thanks to the thousands of volunteers who share Nightingale’s values and want to support their communities at this difficult time.
Her name still means care, bravery and kindness
Although Florence Nightingale died in 1910, we still know her as a kind and effective advocate for anyone who needs medical care, and are reminded of this often.
Her name and legacy have survived through the years in many ways. For instance, Nightingale’s birthday, 12 May, is now known as the International Day of Nursing. And in 1933 the Surrey branch of the British Red Cross registered the country’s first air ambulance. It was named Florence Nightingale.
Every year, the International Committee of the Red Cross awards the Florence Nightingale Medal to recognise exceptional courage and devotion to victims of armed conflict or natural disaster. It also rewards exemplary service or a pioneering spirit in public health or nursing education. In 2019, one of the recipients was Kirsty Boden, a young Australian nurse working at Guy’s Hospital, London. Kirsty was tragically killed while helping members of the public during the London Bridge attack in June 2017.
And of course, the seven Nightingale hospitals opened to treat Covid-19 patients around the UK speak powerfully of Florence Nightingale’s continuing influence. Then once people recover and need to leave hospital, the British Red Cross’ mobility aids service is helping provide the wheelchairs needed to transport patients home after treatment.
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