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Tuesday, April 27, 1999 Published at 08:00 GMT 09:00 UK


Nurses ditch Florence Nightingale image

Florence Nightingale: outdated for the 21st century?

Health workers have voted to ditch Florence Nightingale as their role model because she is unrepresentative of modern nursing.

Public sector union Unison voted unanimously to ask nursing's international body to move International Nurses' Day from Florence Nightingale's birthday to another date.

They said the Lady of the Lamp, famed for her work during the Crimean War, was white, middle class and Protestant, had set up her hospital with family money and had a reputation for a hierarchical approach to nursing.

This was not in keeping with the multi-cultural nature of modern nursing.

But other nurses disagree with Unison's stance.


Backing the motion, health visitor Wendy Wheeler said: "All over Eastern Europe, statues of Lenin are being taken off their pedestals, dismantled and pulled off to be cut up.

"It is in the same vein that the nursing profession must, as we enter the new millennium, start to exorcise the myth of Florence Nightingale."

She said Ms Nightingale was not a bad person, but "the impact of her legacy" had held back the nursing profession.

Ms Wheeler added that Florence Nightingale believed nurses should be subordinate to doctors, was against registration of nurses, opposed the three-year formal training of nurses, did not see mental health as a field for nurses and had "questionable success" at her hospital in the Crimea.

She added that Ms Nightingale was against lay women healers and opposed women speaking in public.

Under the boot

Marie Ingle, another delegate at Unison's annual health conference in Brighton, backed the motion.

She said: "Who was this woman, Florence Nightingale?

[ image: Unison say Florence Nightingale does not represent modern nursing]
Unison say Florence Nightingale does not represent modern nursing
"She was a woman who, not so much kept her nurses under the thumb as under the boot.

"Why should we celebrate International Nurses' Day on her birthday?"

Delegates voted to ask the International Council of Nurses to consider moving the day from 12 May to another date.

Ms Wheeler said a more appropriate date would be 21 May, the birthday of Elizabeth Fry who founded the Institution of Nursing Sisters several years before Ms Nightingale set up her own nursing team.

Ms Fry, another 19th century reformer, is known for her work for female prisoners.

Her efforts also helped improve the treatment of the mentally ill and led to reforms in the hospital system.

The Royal College of Nursing disagrees with Unison's vote.

In a statement, it said: "Florence Nightingale is considered the founder of modern nursing and therefore the whole world has for decades used her birthday to celebrate International Nurses' Day."

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