Never in recent history has there been a time more important to look back and appreciate nurse Florence Nightingale, who discovered the link between disease and healthcare, from the cleanliness of wards to the food and quality of the air patients received.
Today, the world recognises Nightingale’s birthday, May 12, as International Nurses Day.
The International Council of Nurses (ICN) announced the theme for International Nurses Day 2021 (#IND2021) as “A Vision for Future Healthcare”. The overarching theme for this day in recent years has been, and will again this year be: “Nurses: A Voice to Lead”.
According to the ICN, the theme reflects on the affect of Covid-19 on the health system and the nursing profession and how these might be affected into the future. Nurses, as the largest segment of the healthcare profession, must play an integral part in planning the future of healthcare.
ICN president Annette Kennedy said: “This global Covid-19 pandemic has shown the world the important role that nurses play in keeping people healthy across the lifespan.
“While there has been significant disruption to healthcare, there has also been significant innovation that has improved access to care. In 2021, we will focus on the changes to and innovations in nursing and how this will ultimately shape the future of healthcare.”
Howard Catton, ICN CEO, added: “The pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in our health systems and the enormous pressures our nurses are working under, as well as shining a light on their incredible commitment and courage.
“What the pandemic has also done is given us the opportunity to call for a reset and the opportunity to explore new models of care where nurses are at the centre of our health systems. We can only achieve this vision of future healthcare by generating new policies that pave the way for this sea-change and that is another key area IND2021 will seek to focus.”
But many of SA’s nurses still struggle with low wages, exhaustion and a lack of PPE.
The SA Nursing Council encouraged local nurses to share their stories, in case-study form, with the ICN to be part of IND2021. Each year the ICN produces research from these case studies to inform the public and to support nurses with information, research and interviews.
Gudani Tshivhi, a nurse from a hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, said working during the pandemic was stressful at the beginning.
“It was very stressful in the beginning but now I feel like everything feels normal. The thing is they never gave us money, not even a small increase, to say thank you for the job that we have been doing.”
Looking at the possibility of a third wave, the 24-year-old woman said they were just waiting to see what would happen.
“For now we don’t know. We are just waiting. It’s normal; now it’s just going to come and pass and another wave will come. We just take it as normal now.”
Ndivhaleni Mudau, a nurse from Western Cape, said having worked hard during the pandemic and under pressure, nurses would really appreciate increases.
The 43-year-old nurse said the past year had been stressful as a lot had changed in a short time due to Covid-19.
“We have been working under pressure,” she said.
Nightingale was born to wealthy merchant parents in 1820 in Florence, Italy. At 17 she turned down the chance of marriage to a man of considerable means to become not just a nurse but a pioneer in the health industry.
Her first major challenge — before her work during the wars — was an outbreak of cholera due to unsanitary conditions in the hospital. She pioneered hygiene practices, which significantly decreased the death rate at the hospital.
She would go on to use her practices to help reduce the spread of other diseases like typhoid in hospitals during the Crimean War. Using new techniques like scrubbing walls, sanitising equipment, and even changing diets — she was able to cure many of the soldiers.
She would eventually die at age 90, on August 13 1910.