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Florence Nightingale: Bicentenary

Volume 795: debated on Monday 28 January 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale in 2020.

My Lords, the Department of Health and Social Care is working with the Chief Nursing Officer for England on plans for the occasion, and will focus on rightly celebrating those in the nursing professions. Plans include supporting the Nursing Now campaign across the NHS in England. In addition, the Florence Nightingale Museum—located across the river within St Thomas’ Hospital—is in early discussion with partners, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, regarding a number of events to mark the bicentenary.

I thank the Minister for his encouraging response, and I had better declare my interest as chairman of Nursing Now, which he just referred to. Florence Nightingale is a truly global figure —the foundational and inspirational figure for nursing and health systems worldwide. This is an enormous opportunity for the UK. We should be using this bicentenary not just to celebrate nursing and other great nurses such as Mary Seacole, but as an opportunity to promote the contribution the UK makes to health globally. This is a great post-Brexit—I assume it will be post-Brexit—opportunity to promote UK expertise in everything in health, from academia to commerce. The World Health Organization is debating her bicentenary today, and will be making a major announcement about what it intends to do. The UK needs to do the same.

Does the Minister agree that this is a tremendous opportunity for the UK that we must grasp? Will the Government join the WHO, Nursing Now and others to promote nursing and support plans to develop young nurses worldwide?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that this is a very good opportunity to support nursing both in this country and abroad. I pay tribute to those in the nursing profession; those of us who have had care from nurses will understand what I mean.

As I said, the NHS is celebrating the year of the nurse in 2020 and will be organising a number of activities, culminating in an international conference organised by the Florence Nightingale Foundation in October 2020. As far as Nursing Now abroad is concerned, I know the noble Lord is meeting the DfID Minister on 5 February to ask for more practical support. I can confirm that we support the aims of the Nursing Now campaign and its promoting the importance of health workers to achieve the goal of universal health coverage.

My Lords, Florence Nightingale was ahead of her time in realising the importance of data and statistics—in her day I think it was called information and relevant points. Does the Minister realise that today is Data Privacy Day, and that my Private Member’s Bill, the Health and Social Care (National Data Guardian) Bill, has received Royal Assent? Does he agree that this is a very good sign for the health service going forward?

My Lords, as the DCMS Minister, I am aware of course that it is Data Privacy Day. Council of Europe Convention 108 is the only binding international instrument which is signed by 54 states, including Russia. Data Privacy Day celebrates the anniversary of its signing in 1981 and I agree with my noble friend that it is an important day. She is right that Florence Nightingale was an important statistician, and she was the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society in 1858. The national data guardian legislation that my noble friend took through the House as a Private Member’s Bill is excellent because it promotes trust in health data so that we can gain the maximum benefit from it.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness rightly said, Florence Nightingale not only cared for the sick and wounded but was a statistician, thus providing the foundation of our infection control today. Does the Minister agree that the best tribute to Florence Nightingale is to ensure that nurses today have enough time and resources to continue their own professional development, which contributes not just to the National Health Service but to the health and economic status of this country?

I completely agree with the right reverend Prelate: we want more nurses and we want to encourage nurses to join the profession and, importantly, to stay in it. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has recently launched his long-term plan, which addresses in part the problem of the lack of nurses.

My Lords, I would not have wanted to give way to any Bishop other than the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, who has extensive experience of her own in this very field. We have noted the body of people who will be organising the celebration—quite properly—and we look forward to those celebrations, but they have insisted that if we are to honour nursing properly, we should be looking forward rather than back. Some 40,000 health service nursing vacancies need to be filled. Might something as simple as reinstating bursaries for nurses become government policy? Others have thought about it; I am sure that the Minister will want to say something positive about it, too.

Of course, that is not directly relevant to the DCMS, but I am aware that it is an issue. That is why the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who was previously Secretary of State at the DCMS, established a DHSC-led nurse supply board to drive progress with health bodies on a range of measures, including a national recruitment campaign, action to encourage nurses who have left the NHS to return to practice, and a programme to encourage nurse retention and to look at situations where suitable nurses might be turned away by disproportionate language controls. We are addressing the issue. The one thing on which I think we all agree is the tremendous benefit that the nursing profession brings to us and countries abroad.