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International Nurses Day: Failing Florence Nightingale?

Written by on 12 mai 2020

Pioneer of modern nursing Florence Nightingale was born 200 years ago today.

In recent years at least, her legacy has never been as important as it is right now. Daily calls to maintain good personal hygiene, to wash our hands, to keep at a distance; Nightingale’s insistence on these measures two centuries ago saved countless lives of soldiers in the Crimean war, and the lives of many more after that.

In honour of Nightingale, today, the 12th of May is International Nurses Day. In the midst of the global health crisis, we celebrate her legacy and the work of nurses around the world.

In Britain, Nightingale is venerated almost like a patron saint. But do we practice what we preach? Are our present-day nurses held in such high esteem?

We spoke to Anna, a nurse in her final year of training. Normally she’d be writing her dissertation and preparing to graduate right now. But she along with others on her course around the country has been given the choice to be fast tracked into hospital work, in an effort to prop up the National Health Service in its fight against Covid-19. We asked her whether she feels supported in her new role.

“I would say that my personal experience of working day to day is a lot more positive than I expected going in. I would completely attribute that to the other nurses and doctors that I’m working with. But I’m aware that there are a lot of students in my position who chose to opt-in, but have already had to opt back out again, because they weren’t being given enough support and practice. 

When it first started, I did find the demonstration of support, like the clapping, quite emotional. But these gestures aren’t really enough. By pushing the idea of key workers as ‘heroes’, the government is creating a setting where unsafe working conditions and high death tolls seem like something we signed up for, instead of seeing the situation for what it is; the government was ill-prepared and has been consistently neglectful of the jobs in our society that do the most to protect human lives.” 

Calls for healthcare professionals to be financially compensated for their work during the crisis have so far been dismissed by the British government. Health secretary Matt Hancock has said it’s “not the right time” to have the discussion. 

Meanwhile in France last month, the government announced a one-off bonus ranging between €500 and €1,500 for healthcare workers on the front line. But frustrations are rising amongst these staff who haven’t yet received the promised sum. 


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