Celebrating Florence, honouring those we've lost

 Dee Sissons 12 May 2020

Today, on the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, it’s Nurses’ Day – the annual opportunity for the public, and nurses themselves, to take a few moments to celebrate the profound good that nursing does.

Throughout the world, Florence is widely credited with having pioneered the fundamental principles of good nursing that continue to stand the tests of time and progress in the art and science of our profession all these years later.

If anyone needed a reminder of the enduring importance of her legacy, the World Health Organisation’s designation of 2020 as the first-ever International Year of the Nurse and Midwife was surely going to deliver it.

What better way to mark Florence’s bicentennial year than to inspire a global appreciation of nurses and nursing, of the skill, empathy and compassion that are the hallmarks of what we do, and of how critical it is that there should always be enough of us?

And, yet, as wholeheartedly as the WHO designation will champion our profession and professionalism this year, on this Nurses’ Day it’s the work that nurses are doing at the forefront of the response to the current Coronavirus emergency that best demonstrates the incalculable value of our contribution to society.


The pandemic is challenging the nursing workforce in ways that few of us will have experienced and none of us could have imagined.

Even before the crisis, staffing shortages were leaving too many nurses finding it almost impossible to care for all of their patients and service users as well as they want to and as well as the public rightly expect.

Whilst, for some, staffing pressures may have eased slightly wherever final-year nursing students have opted in to extended clinical placements and other nurses have returned to practice temporarily to reinforce the COVID-19 response, it’s not the case for everyone.

Many staff have been unable to work due to being ill themselves or because they’ve been observing self-isolation advice or shielding a vulnerable partner or family member, so the shortages have persisted.

But, as they always do, nursing staff are confronting the challenge head on in order to care for, comfort and protect the people and the families who depend on them.

So, whether it’s adjusting to being redeployed to an unfamiliar role or working environment for the greater good, living apart from their own family for days or even weeks at a time to avoid the risk of spreading the infection, or simply holding the hand of a patient who is about to die when their loved ones cannot be there, our dedication to duty is absolute.


Is there anxiety and uncertainty among our ranks? Yes, without question. Not all nursing staff feel safe when they are delivering care to people who have COVID-19 or who have symptoms of the virus. There are still too many worrying stories of health and care workers saying they’re not receiving enough Personal Protective Equipment or enough of the correct PPE, and many fear that their own health and welfare is at risk, especially if they have an underlying health condition or are pregnant, for example.

And, tragically, some of our colleagues have lost their lives doing their best to save the lives of others. We’re losing our own.

None of them – none of these mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, partners, friends and colleagues – must ever be forgotten.

For all of these reasons, the goodwill of the public has rarely been a more sustaining and treasured commodity for nurses. Just as we couldn’t have imagined working through such a distressing, life-changing pandemic, nor could we have imagined that so many people would express their respect and appreciation for us and our fellow health care workers so resoundingly as they have been doing in the #ClapforCarers every Thursday evening for the past few weeks. We are incredibly thankful for that support.

Special place

The story of Florence Nightingale has a very special place in the history of Derbyshire, of course. Although she was not born in the county – she was named after Florence in Italy, the city of her birth – she spent much of her early childhood at the family home at Lea Hurst, near Matlock.

Today, on this Nurses’ Day, and as they do every day, nursing staff in Derbyshire and beyond will achieve truly amazing things for patients and their families. They will succeed in making the extraordinary seem ordinary. They will think, they will lead and they will care in the very finest traditions of nursing that Florence epitomised.

Happy Nurses’ Day!

Dee Sissons

Dee Sissons

RCN Council member

East Midlands region

Dee is the East Midlands representative on RCN Council, the College's governing body. She is also the Chair of RCN Council.

She has experience spanning four decades across the acute, commissioning and charity sector and is currently Chief Executive Officer of Rainbows Children’s Hospice in Leicestershire.

Dee has also been Executive Director of Nursing for Marie Curie where she worked with the RCN to support the development of internal policies around competences for medicines management and national policy on end-of-life care.

Page last updated - 11/10/2020