Every Thursday since the country went into a state of lockdown, people up and down the country have taken to their doorsteps, gardens, balconies and streets to applaud the courageous efforts of healthcare professionals working to combat the effects of coronavirus.
Many of those on the frontlines are nurses. In the UK, there are over 500,000 and worldwide they, along with midwives, account for nearly 50% of the global health workforce.
It’s fair to say that nurses are the backbone of every health system.
On 12 May, International Nurses Day, we celebrate their unparalleled contribution to society.
It’s a double celebration because 2020 – the bicentennial year of Florence Nightingale, widely regarded as the founder of modern nursing – has been designated by the World Health Organisation as the first-ever global Year of the Nurse and Midwife.
If you needed a reason to clap a little louder this week, you have it.
Highly-skilled and from a diverse range of backgrounds, we’re incredibly proud of the wonderful nursing teams that work at both our Hospital and St John’s Hospice. They carry on a rich tradition of nursing that dates back to our foundation in 1856.
Keep reading to find out more…
When Cardinal Wiseman founded our Hospital in 1856, his vision was to provide care for two classes of patients. Those suffering with an incurable disease, especially when near death, and those with maladies that required long-term treatment.
The Hospital was placed under the care of the Sisters of Mercy, an order of nuns, who worked with Florence Nightingale (pictured, 1820-1910) in the Crimean War.
Nightingale, known as ‘the lady with the lamp, was a British nurse, statistician, and social reformer who was the foundational philosopher of modern nursing.
In her bicentennial year, the UK continues to celebrate her legacy with NHS field hospitals, set up to combat COVID-19, carrying her name.
Catherine McAuley & the Sisters of Mercy
Sister Catherine McAuley (pictured, 1778-1841) founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin in 1831 and her religious institute went on to start many education and health care facilities around the globe.
Following their work alongside Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War (1853-1856), the Sisters of Mercy were given the responsibility for nursing at our Hospital – then located in Great Ormond Street.
By 1857 their high level of nursing care was being used to treat women and children across 20 beds.
The Sisters went on to hold the nursing responsibility at our Hospital for 132 years.
World War One
World War One placed heavy demands on nursing services, and nurses, many of whom signed up to the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), worked closer to the frontline than they ever had before in wartime.
Duties included prepping injured personnel for surgery, dressing wounds and combating illnesses caused by trench life.
Back in London, the Hospital authorities placed 50 beds (later increased to 100) at our Hospital at the disposal of the Admiralty and the War Office. By December, wounded and sick servicemen were being nursed on site in Circus Road.
In 1915, King George V visited our Hospital to meet those being treated. By the end of hostilities – three years later – our premises had treated 2,573 Naval and Military patients.
Three of the Sisters were later awarded the Royal Red Cross by the King for their services.
In the aftermath of World War One, the Regulation of Nurses Act was passed for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (still part of the UK at the time).
It meant that all nurses had to learn the same subjects and meet the same standards. In 1925 the training was further formalised by the launch of a first national examination. Amazingly, about 40% of the candidates failed!
By 1928, the year penicillin was discovered, our Hospital had 134 beds, including 17 beds in each of the six wards and 18 private rooms for fee-paying patients. The following year, a new building – Wiseman House – was opened as a training school with accommodation for nurses.
In 2009, nursing became an all-degree profession, meaning that all student nurses are now educated in universities.
World War Two
At the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, our Hospital joined the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) as the government prepared for a wave of air-raid casualties caused by Luftwaffe bombing.
Out of 140 beds (including 14 private patient rooms), 100 were given over to the EMS with 35 nurses looking after them. A further 40 nurses were transferred to the Bedford Mental Hospital.
While London suffered considerable damage during the Blitz, huge numbers of deaths were, thankfully, avoided.
Midwifery at the Hospital
In 1948, on the 50th anniversary of our move to St John’s Wood, the Hospital opened a maternity department to accommodate 10 patients in addition to doctors, reception and labour rooms.
The hospital remained outside the newly founded National Health Service and instead continued its voluntary work thanks to subscriptions and donations.
A specialist birthing unit was opened in 1991 and was one of the first places to pioneer the ‘natural birth movement’, which rejected excessive medical intervention. It closed its doors in 2010.
Nursing at St John’s Hospice
In 1977, the Sisters of Mercy and the Brampton Trust – which helped to fund the Hospital since 1907 – started to discuss the possibility of having beds available in the Hospital for the admission of cancer patients both on medical and social grounds.
The plans took off in the early 1980s with the creation of the Catherine McAuley Unit which in turn led to the formal opening of the Hospice by the Queen Mother on 19 May 1984. Having garnered widespread praise for its devoted caring of the terminally ill, St John’s Hospice was also visited by Princess Diana in 1986.
The Hospice has always looked after people regardless of their ability to pay or their faith. Thanks to our team of doctors and nurses, who work alongside social workers, physiotherapists, occupational and complementary therapists, it now provides specialised palliative care to more than 4,000 terminally-ill patients and their families every year.
In 2011, the old Outpatients department was transformed into an urgent care centre to help continue our Hospital’s tradition of serving the community.
This private, walk-in, urgent care centre is a much-needed facility and treated over 33,000 people in its first three years.
It offers easy access to experienced A&E doctors and nurses, treating minor accidents, injuries and illnesses and allows patients, including children from the age of one year, to avoid NHS queues.
We currently have two nurses and one assistant practitioner in the Urgent Care Centre. The nurse is responsible for triaging patients and treating minor ailments such as dressings or vaccinations, taking blood samples, doing ECGs, monitoring patients in the treatment room and coordinating admissions. They are also responsible for contacting patients about test results and supporting the doctors and ordering sufficient supplies and checking the equipment.
2020 and beyond
The aim of the Hospital is the same now as it was when we were founded over 150 years ago – to provide the highest quality healthcare for all those who seek it.
At the heart of this is our dedicated nursing team who do our mantra proud every day by ‘putting people first’.
We’re always looking to support, empower, assist and develop our nurses so that they can help us to continue improving the standard of our care.
Today, we have nearly 150 nurses working for us. Ahead of International Nurses Day on 12 May, we thank them for their amazing efforts.