Nurses are an integral part of the society as they help restore sick people to health by providing direct care. The profession of nursing is vital to the functioning of a country’s healthcare system. In the UK, major developments in the profession of nursing started after 1850. The history of nursing in the UK has witnessed some notable nurses whose contributions have proved to be revolutionary and of paramount importance. Some of the most notable nurses in the UK’s history are –     

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale was a British nurse who revolutionised the practice of nursing. She is known as the founder of modern nursing. Her contributions as a statistician and social reformer are well acknowledged.

Florence Nightingale was born to a wealthy British family on May 12, 1820 in the city of Florence in Tuscany, Italy. The family returned to England in 1821.

When she was a teenager, she believed that there was a divine call to devote her life to reduce the suffering of others. Nursing appeared a suitable profession to her to serve the mankind. She learned basic nursing skills at the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswerth in Germany during 1950-51.

In 1854, during the Crimean War, Nightingale along with thirty-eight women volunteer nurses was sent to Barrack Hospital in Scutari to provide care to the wounded soldiers. She found scarcity of medicines, lack of hygiene and overcrowding at the hospital. Nightingale informed the British Government about the miserable condition. In response, the British government sent the Sanitary Commission to Scutari.

To ensure proper care of the soldiers, Nightingale sought funds to buy equipment and took the assistance of soldiers’ wives for laundry tasks. She established standards of care in the hospital, which included bathing, clean clothing and dressings, and adequate supply of food for the patients. Nightingale earned the title of “Lady with the Lamp” because of her visits to the hospital wards during the night-time for providing care to the sick. Her efforts significantly reduced the mortality rate at the hospital.

Nightingale maintained thorough records during her stay at the Barrack hospital. The statistical data and analysis provided by Nightingale resulted in a marked reform in the military’s medical and purveyance systems. 

For the training of nurses, the Nightingale Fund was established in 1855. In 1860, Nightingale set up the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. The school made nursing a viable and respectable option for women.

Florence Nightingale was also a great writer. Her book – “Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not” – improved the health of households by teaching how to manage the sick.

Nightingale was honoured with Royal Red Cross, received the title of Lady of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and became the first woman to receive the Order of Merit. She died at the age of 90 on August 13, 1910.

Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell is a revered figure in the whole nursing profession around the world. She was a British nurse, who is known for her unbiased service during the first world war. She saved the lives of soldiers from both sides of the war without discriminating between the Allied and German soldiers. As an act of patriotism and humanity, she assisted the escape of some 200 Allied soldiers from the German-occupied Belgium.

Edith Cavell was born on December 4, 1865 in Swardeston, a village in Norfolk, England.

In 1895, Edith provided nursing care to her ill father. This nursing encounter with her father made her choose nursing as career. For a few months, she took vocational training at the Fountain Fever Hospital, Tooting. At the age of 30, in 1896, she joined Royal London Hospital for training.

She was awarded Maidstone Medal for her nursing service during the outbreak of typhoid fever in 1897 in Maidstone. In 1903, she became an assistant matron at Shoreditch infirmary, where she pioneered follow-up work by visiting discharged patients. In 1907, Edith became in charge of a pioneer training school for lay nurses in Belgium.

In 1914, when first world war broke out, Edith was with her mother in Norfolk. She decided to return to Brussels to perform her duties. On returning to Brussels, Edith started providing care to all soldiers irrespective of their nationalities. Apart from this noble act of saving lives without discrimination on the basis of nationality, Cavell also gave shelter to allied soldiers and helped their escape to neutral Holland.  Edith helped about 200 allied soldiers to escape from Brussels to neutral Holland. She regarded the protection and escape of stranded soldiers as humanitarian as caring for the sick.

On 5 August 1915, Edith was arrested by Germans for her role in the escape of allied soldiers. Edith was found guilty of treason and was punished with death penalty. Despite international plea for mercy, Edith Cavell was shot dead on 12 October 1915.

In the evening before she was executed, she told English Chaplain, Stirling Gahan, who came to interview her – “They have all been very kind to me here. But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards any one.”

She was a very brave and courageous English nurse, who was driven by an intense sense of duty, patriotism and humanity.

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole is recognised for her care for British soldiers during the Crimean War (1853 – 56).

She was born as Mary Jane Grant in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805. Her father was a Scottish soldier and her mother a Jamaican. Mary learned her nursing skills from her mother, who was skilled in traditional herbal remedies and kept a boarding house for invalid soldiers.

In 1854, on learning about the poor medical facilities for wounded soldiers in the Crimean War, she approached the war office in England and asked them to send her as an army nurse to the Crimea. Her request was refused and she attributed her rejection to racial prejudice.  

Seacole funded her own trip to the Crimea, where she established a British Hotel to provide food, supplies and medicines to the troops. She provided care to the wounded at the military hospitals, and also visited the battlefield, sometimes under fire, to nurse the wounded. She came to be known as “Mother Seacole”. Her reputation rivalled that of Florence Nightingale. After the war, she returned to England destitute and in ill health.

In 1857, she published her memoirs – “The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands”. She died on 14 May 1881 in London. After her death, her contributions fell into obscurity, but in 2004, she earned first place in the 100 Great Black Britons poll in the United Kingdom.

Nancy Roper

Nancy Roper was a practical theorist. She developed a nursing theory, which has actually helped generations of nurses. Its influence is worldwide and there is not a student nurse in Britain who does not use her model, first published in her 1976 monograph – “Clinical Experience in Nurse Education”. It is equally a framework for nursing in America and Europe.

What Nancy Roper set out was a common core of the nursing required by each patient, regardless of medical diagnosis or location in the health service, and was based on patients’ everyday living activities. It reminded the nurse to look at the whole patient. Some activities were obvious, such as eating and drinking, but she taught nurses also to look further, and to expect, and be prepared to cope with sexuality in their patients, and death and dying.

Nancy Roper was born in Wetheral in Cumberland, England on 29 September 1918 and died in Edinburgh on 5 October 2004.

Dame Cicely Saunders

Dame Cicely Saunders is recognised as the founder of the modern hospice movement. She founded St Christopher’s Hospice in 1967 as the first hospice linking expert pain and symptom control, compassionate care, teaching and clinical research. St Christopher’s has been a pioneer in the field of palliative medicine, which is now established worldwide.

She was born on 22 June 1918 in Barnet, Hertfordshire. She was trained as a nurse, a medical social worker and finally as a physician.

Involved with the care of patients with terminal illness since 1948, she lectured widely on this subject, wrote many articles and contributed to numerous books.

Cicely Saunders revolutionised the way in which society cares for the ill, the dying and the bereaved. In recognition of her significant services to the field of palliative care, Cicely was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1979 and awarded the Order of Merit in 1989. Dame Cicely Saunders died on 14 July 2005 at St Christopher’s Hospice.

Judy Waterlow

Judy Waterlow designed and researched her pressure ulcer risk assessment tool in 1985, while working as a Clinical Nurse Teacher.

The tool was originally designed for use by her students. This tool known as the Waterlow pressure ulcer risk assessment/prevention policy tool is, by far, the most frequently used tool of its type in the U.K. This tool is also the most easily understood and used by nurses dealing directly with patient/clients.

She received the honour of the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2008.

Barbara Stilwell

Barbara Stilwell developed the first nurse practitioner training programme in the UK.

It was about 1979 that Stilwell heard about nurse practitioners in the US, wrote an article about the need for them in the UK and was subsequently offered an award to study in the US to be a nurse practitioner. Stilwell went through the University of North Carolina’s (UNC’s) nurse practitioner programme, which made a huge impact on her. After her UNC training, Stilwell vowed to break traditional nursing model in England.

She returned to England and talked to the Department of General Practice in Birmingham about the need to start a nurse practitioner programme. One of the guys there had just come back from UNC, and he thought nurse practitioner programme was a great idea. Together they did research on it and set the programme in a general practice in Birmingham, where nurse practitioner care was offered to any patient who wished it.

A study evaluated the attitudes of patients, nurses and physicians along with the safety of the care given, over a three-year period. Results were published in the Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners and used widely to influence ongoing policy reviews in the NHS.

Publication of the research led to the Royal College of Nursing Institute requesting Stilwell to set up the first programme for training nurse practitioners. The nurse practitioner programme began in 1990 with 15 students.

Christine Moffatt

Christine Moffat is recognised for her contributions to the care and management of leg ulcers. She has undertaken extensive research on wound healing and lymphoedema using mixed research methods including running national and international clinical trials.

She heads the International Lymphoedema Framework, an international charity, whose mission is to develop effective lymphoedema care throughout the world. Her areas of research include compression therapy; service development and evaluation; psychosocial impact of disease; chronic wounds and lymphoedema.

She is the president of the Leg Ulcer Forum. The Leg Ulcer Forum (LUF) has developed national standards for leg ulcer care, patient leaflets and staff educational leaflets to promote best practices in evidence-based care.

Christine Moffat received the honour of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2006 New Year’s Honours List and was made a life fellow of the Royal College of Nursing in the same year.

Phil Barker

Phil Baker created a revolutionary nursing theory known as the Tidal Model of Mental Health Recovery. Phil Barker was the United Kingdom’s first professor of psychiatric nursing at Newcastle University.

The Tidal Model is an internationally accepted theory for the practice of mental health recovery. According to Phil Baker, the Tidal Model is a philosophical approach to the discovery of mental health. It emphasises helping people reclaim the personal story of mental distress, by recovering their voice. By using their own language, metaphors and personal stories, people begin to express something of the meaning of their lives. This is the first step towards helping recover control over their lives.

It provides a nursing care practice framework for the exploration of the patient’s need for nursing and the provision of individually-tailored care plans. The theory states that an individual’s mental well-being is dependent on his or her individual life experiences, including his or her sense of self, perceptions, thoughts and actions.

Nola Ishmael

Nola Ishmael became the first black and minority ethnic director of nursing in London.

Nola Ishmael was born in 1943 in Barbados. She arrived in England in 1963. She started her nursing career in the National Health Service (NHS) at a hospital in Bishops Stortford. She later moved to the Whittington Hospital in London to gain her state registration qualification. In 1987, she became assistant director of nursing in Greenwich. Later, she was appointed as the director of nursing, thereby becoming the first black nursing director in the NHS in London.

She moved to the Department of Health where she worked closely with ministers and chief nursing officers in different roles, including professional private secretary to the chief nursing officer. She later enriched her portfolio with nursing policy responsibilities in public health areas and black and minority ethnic issues.

Nola initiated programmes of mentoring, coaching and personal development, and collaborated on the establishment of the Mary Seacole leadership awards. She co-produced the department’s publication – “Many Rivers to Cross”, which chronicled the contribution of Caribbean staff to the NHS.

Nola received the honour of the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2000. Birmingham City University conferred upon her an honorary doctorate degree for her services to nursing. She was presented the Breakthrough Equality Award from the Wainwright Trust, and also received Nursing Times magazine’s recognition as one of top 50 influential nurses in the last 100 years.

Dame Jill Macleod Clark

Dame Jill played a pivotal role in taking nurse education into universities, developing teaching and research in communication skills and health promotion, and for championing evidence-based practice. She advocated for robust education pathways and advanced nursing roles.

She was born on born 11 June 1944. Dame Jill has a background in clinical and academic nursing. She trained at University College Hospital and worked for many years in a range of nursing roles in the acute and community sector. She studied at the London School of Economics and her doctorate focussed on nurse-patient communication.

Jill has held a number of professional leadership and advisory roles in the UK and overseas. She was formally a Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Health & Biological Sciences and Head of the School of Nursing & Midwifery, University of Southampton. 

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