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Baroness Audrey Emerton, Address to the Congregation at the Florence Nightingale Commemoration Service (notes)

Please find below: 

Baroness Emerton's notes from her address on 11th May but be aware that she did not keep to the actual wording all the way through.

Service to Commemorate the Life of Florence Nightingale in Westminster Abbey 11 May 2016

It is a great privilege for me to be invited to give the Address at this evenings Service, in this beautiful Abbey to commemorate the Life of Florence Nightingale .

It always amazes me when I approach the Abbey for the Service the queue that has gathered even an hour before the doors open 6-30 service, what is it that attracts so many to want to come to a Service in memory of a person Florence Nightingale who died 106 years ago?  It is mainly because she was one of the first nurses that established the role of the Professional Nurse, she worked to establish Education  Practice and research being the essential ingredients for the professional nurse. However I think one of the other reasons we remember her was her ability to influence and persuade and effect change from a very early age.

Her family were totally against her taking any interest in Nursing, it was just not thought of as being a life style for a wealthy young woman in 1830’s,. but she patiently bore with the family with their wishes for her to do the thing young ladies did in society at that time but Florence was a young lady of Faith and was conscious that God was calling her  become a nurse and she started by gently visiting the sick and delivering care locally this eventually won the family over and they agreed for her to train as a nurse.

As a result of the family connection, it became known she was very dedicated to the cause for caring for the sick that she was asked at the age of 34 by Sir Sydney Herbert Secretary –at War today would be called Minister War, to take 30 nurses to Scutari for care for the wounded and sick soldiers in the Crimean War in 1854 .At this stage she felt that at last she had a real challenge to care for the sick and wounded in a difficult environmental conditions.

I feel sure that the first Reading from the Book of Isaiah tonight was a reassurance of her commitment to her faith in God that she, Florence, had been called by God to nurse and we know from the records that her commitment to that Faith was lifelong, and proved to sustain her through all the difficult times of which there many.

It did not take Florence long, on top of delivery nursing care to the injured and sick soldiers to realise that the conditions were not conducive to healing as Water was polluted and the Irrigation and Sanitation was a potential health risk and immediately started research in how the systems of irrigation and sanitation could be established the

Florence immediately kept the Government Officers informed of her findings and what she was doing by means of research. On her return to London after the war she reported to the minister that conditions were unsafe in the barracks and surrounding areas for the Indian population. Florence was keen to influence and persuade the government that action should be taken in order to prevent further disease and to promote the health of the population. Queen Victoria called for a Royal Commission and Florence despite ill health having contracted infections and fevers whilst in Scutari continued to research and develop systems. During the next 40 years Florence influenced

and persuaded the 10 Viceroys who in turn were stationed in India on behalf of the Government in England. Records of the correspondence from Florence and replies back from the Viceroys were attached to Florence Nightingale’s  Will and were published in a book called Florence Nightingale and the Viceroys published in 2008 written by Pat Mowbray that illustrates the tenacity of purpose  and her power of influence and persuasion to those in authority who had the means of taking action at home and abroad . Today  as nurses need that tenacity of Purpose  and Power of Persuasion and Influence perhaps it is just that which is the legacy Florence has left us and why we meet each year to commemorate  her life to remind us of our responsibility to activate research on care issues and then activate implementation both in Prevention of Disease Promotion of Health as well as treatment of Disease.

Her legacy of Education, Practice and Research and Leadership live on today in the 21st century as you will have read in the Service Booklet with much appreciation to all our sponsors who support the work .

Against this background tonight the Service is carefully planned to depict the importance of Education and Practice Research and Leadership at all levels of care both within the NHS, the Armed Services, the Universities   Private and Charitable Sector, and other health care providers. Remembering the Legacy of Florence Nightingale and the important part played by everyone towards delivering high quality safe care to patient in whatever situation.

Tonight gives the opportunity to stop, to reflect and hopefully ACT as a result in some small, or even better, larger. way that  will improve patient care. Florence Nightingale did not wait to be invited to help, she Acted until she succeeded.     This illustrates how important the Prevention of Disease and Promotion of health was in her mind and how her tenacity of propose was successful in introducing the first attempt to introduce such technical means and procedures to that end. 

 It is not always direct patient care change that affects direct patient care. As a personal example  as a young inexperienced Regional Nursing officer I was concerned at the high level of Bed sores across the Region and 33,000  nurses were all blaming the linen , lack of supply and quality of the linen .as a contributory cause!  I raised the matter of linen supply and quality at the meeting of the Regional team of officer and generated no interest or any help. As I was a new Girl in the Team of a reorganised NHS where promotion of  “consensus management” was the new concept! I decided to continue asking the question of who could help me on this problem until one week the Regional Administrator greeted me rather triumphantly at the beginning of the meeting “Audrey I have a solution to your laundry Problem” . I want you to take charge of the laundries. I think he expected a reply This is a Non Nursing duty but I replied Oh! Thankyou I will enjoy that. In fact I was terrified! I had never been in a large laundry and wondered how the 6  Managers of the Laundries would react to a Nurse coming in inspecting and suggesting changes. But the most interesting thing that happened was talking to the actual laundry workers they had no idea that their work, if not done properly could be an additional hazard and the contributory cause and treatment of Pressure sores. My motto thereafter was never refuse to do something that is going to benefit the care of patients, and how important that everyone employed in the NHS has some Understanding of their role in the contribution they make to patient care delivery  either directly or indirectly, including the Volunteers. . Perhaps this experience could be described as “Not too Posh to work in the Laundries!” This lesson stayed with me during my career realising if a task was for the benefit of improving care then I would not be too posh to do it including Washing patients. I was taught in the PTS nearly 63 years ago that the Body is like a 3 legged stool  and if one leg is damaged the whole stool is suffering and cannot be used and that every patient has a mind, physical body and a spirit and when washing or bathing a patient the nurse has the opportunity to assess the total physical, mental or  spirituals need, often this is when a patient would confide in the worries they have about their total  recovery, or family worries. If unable to solve the problems then referral to the appropriate department for help.    That is why we should NEVER be “too posh to wash” the more senior one is the more likely to assess the level of the anxiety or symptom of pain being suffered. This is what holistic care is about the ability to correlate theory to practice and something  we need to remind ourselves of constantly; certainly the new revalidation system will be helpful in keeping everyone updated .


Tonight this Wonderful Abbey is full of many nationalities, many traditions and many faiths and how would the patients survive without this large contribution from so many nurses from other countries;

 Knowing I was to prepare this address I was stuck by a recent quote by the Archbishop of Canterbury The right Reverend  the Lord Welby and with his permission I quote:-

“We’ve got a society with many faiths in it. It doesn’t work by some sort of extraordinary mush that stands for nothing at all, it never has. That is why I say we must be confident in our tradition and with that confidence be deeply hospitable to the other traditions we find living with us, listen, share, enjoy, that fact that we are “a diverse society”.

This links very much with the 2nd reading from the letter Apostle Peter and his final instruction to a gathering of foreigners “Finally all of you live in harmony with one another be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble .

The Challenge to the largest single workforce the Profession of Nursing, Midwifery Health Visiting and health care assistants this would give an opportunity to demonstrate to not only to the patient’s and relatives  but the other health Care  professions that it is possible for us to accept that whilst retaining  our own   personal tradition and faith the respect for others who differ from our own can accept the “one-ness” in the  delivery of a high quality service  and hopefully this in turn would be an example  to other professions to adopt the same recognition of being one diverse population but united in the delivery of high quality care providing a” culture of care” acceptable and appreciated by all.

Is this a challenge we could really take on board and prove to society it is possible to be “A Diverse” population that works for the good of the whole?.

It will be an enormous challenge to each one but possible if we remember the words of the apostle Peter to his group of foreigners “live in harmony with one another be sympathetic love as brothers be compassionate and humble”  it will prove to be possible to overcome the barriers and provide that culture of care..  

As Nurses we are the largest single workforce in the NHS together with the hundreds and thousands that work outside the NHS  we have one common aim and that is to deliver high quality ,safe level of care to the satisfaction  of  the recipient. It would be true to say that times are difficult especially with the current economic situation and the many changes that have and are taking place it can be unsettling in the workplace but  Let us go from here tonight commemorating the life of Florence Nightingale who also lived through very difficult times both in her home country and abroad, but her tenacity of purpose and  her  influence and persuasive approach resulted in changes of benefit to the sick the wounded and the general population at home and abroad not only in the delivery of nursing care but the promotion of health and Prevention of disease . All being the Challenge to us at the present time

Returning to the first reading in this service this evening the Minor Prophet Micah lived in a difficult time and was leading a group who were very sceptical and difficult in the way he was leading but he concluded a speech with the following words that are very applicable to us as nurses or health care workers

Micah proposed a rhetorical questions to the crowd

“ What does the Lord require of you? To walk humbly, to act justly and to love kindness.

 It costs nothing, but means a tremendous amount to those whom we deliver care and to the colleagues with whom we work .   

May we remember those words as we return to our duties however senior, or junior as we deliver care or in our lives generally, in an attempt to make the world a better place. .