My visit to the Nightingale Hospital

 Dame Donna Kinnair 1 Apr 2020 Chief Executive and General Secretary

As a lifelong east Londoner, I’ve seen the old Docklands area change beyond recognition. Undoubtedly, the most rapid change I’ve witnessed though, has been the transformation of a venue designed for boat shows into a hospital fit for the critically ill. 

When I walked into the new Nightingale yesterday, it was almost impossible to imagine what is set to play out here in just a matter of days. Next time I enter, it will be as a volunteer, accompanied by my son, who is giving his own time and medical expertise too. 

Similar emergency or ‘field’ hospitals are in the planning across the country. Thousands of nurses like me are re-joining the ranks. I feel the same pride for our profession today as I have for decades, and even greater certainty about how nursing can help the UK rise to the current challenge. 

But I’m a straight-talker too, which is why I continue to tell the UK Government that the confusion around equipment must end. 
I have received reassurances that the UK has enough equipment, and that the logistics of getting it to all nursing staff are being worked on as a matter of priority. But that’s of very little comfort to the person on the phone to me who’s saying they are in a hospital, care home or patient’s house without what they need. 

The system needs to move faster. The leadership in communities and hospitals need to recognise that they too have a responsibility for the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff and make sure the ordering, fitting and consistency of protective equipment is on their agendas. 

We have been waiting for weeks – for updated guidance and for equipment. The very last thing nursing staff need to worry about is their workplace running out of soap, or the right mask, visor, gown or scrubs. 

Florence may have her name on the building but if nursing experts had been part of the government’s COVID-19 response to begin with, it could have avoided confusion and delay about those that need protective equipment. Much of the failure here in terms of PPE has been a lack of understanding that nearly all nurses deliver treatment and care within one meter of a patient.

Consistently, the nursing voice is not being heard in Parliament. We were not called to the Health and Social Care Committee hearing last week. Our response to them is that nurses matter – we are also working tirelessly alongside our medical colleagues to provide care.  

It is not enough to use the Nightingale name to signify compassion and the nostalgia of the ‘lady with the lamp’. We must remember her work and why nursing is key to addressing this pandemic. 

In the 200 years since her birth, nursing has come a long way – but what troubles me is how much she might still recognise of this doctor-knows-best approach. It is outdated, inaccurate and quite simply dangerous. 

Fortunately, experts and expertise are back in fashion. But the public debate can’t be dominated by the people for whom this is academic exercise. 

The nursing staff, running the frontline response, aren’t being heard. There is deep expertise in nursing and we need to be front and centre.

When it comes to the front, we are already there. Nurses couldn’t be any closer to the heart of this battle. We’ll do our bit and play our leading role. We ask for protection. 
Dame Donna Kinnair

Dame Donna Kinnair

Chief Executive & General Secretary

Prior to her appointment as Acting Chief Executive & General Secretary, Dame Donna was Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice and worked with UK-wide RCN staff to drive and implement RCN professional nursing, policy and practice strategy.

Before joining the RCN, Donna held various roles, including Clinical Director of Emergency Medicine at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust.
Donna advised the PM’s Commission on the future of Nursing and Midwifery in 2010 and served as nurse/child health assessor to the Victoria Climbié Inquiry.

Page last updated - 08/04/2020