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Welsh nursing icon celebrated with memorials

The life and work of pioneering Welsh nurse Betsi Cadwaladr has been commemorated with the unveiling of a memorial stone and bench.

She was a contemporary of Florence Nightingale, but famously fell out with her over their initially conflicting approaches to helping British soldiers in the Crimean War.

She was buried in a pauper’s grave in Abney Park Cemetery, London, where a special service was held on 2 August to unveil the new memorials to her life and work.

Besti Cadwaladr University Health Board raised funds for the memorial stone in honour of its namesake, while the Royal College of Nursing in Wales raised funds for the Betsi Cadwaladr memorial bench.

The 19th century nurse from Bala is RCN Wales’ adopted nurse heroine. Born in 1789, she joined military nursing service during the Crimean War and was sent to a hospital run by Florence Nightingale in Scutari.

However, she lost patience with bureaucracy and went to the frontline at Balaclava, falling out with Nightingale as a result. In Balaclava she made progress against the unhygienic conditions and red tape, which is said to have ultimately impressed Florence Nightingale.

However, in 1855, one year before the war ended, she returned home suffering from cholera and dysentery. She died five years later in 1860, in London.

Donna Mead, dean of the faculty of health, sport and science at the University of Glamorgan, led the campaign to have Betsi Cadwaladr formerly commemorated.  

She said: “Betsi Cadwaladr and Florence Nightingale were from different traditions with Nightingale respecting rules, regulations and bureaucracy and Betsi responding instinctively to the needs of injured soldiers as they arose (regardless of the regulations).

“In the end Nightingale came to respect the way in which Betsi worked tirelessly in order to provide care for her patients,” she said.

Professor Mead added: “Betsi was over 60 when she went to Balaclava and the hard work together with the privations of the field hospital at Balaclava rendered her so ill that she had to return home. Betsi was buried a pauper.

“The ignominy of such a burial is heartbreaking, especially as Betsi paid such a high price for her relentless hard work and dedication at Balaclava. It cost her her health.

“On 2 August 2012 Welsh nurses restored to Betsi the dignity which we all take for granted to have one’s life acknowledged, remembered and celebrated. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Christine Thomas, chair of the RCN Welsh Board and RCN council member for Wales, thanked all nurses who contributed to funding the memorials.

Jill Galvani, executive director of nursing, midwifery and patient services, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, added: “Betsi was a person who represented the true value of nursing to soldiers who needed her.

“She wasn’t afraid to challenge poor care or any obstacle that stopped her giving excellent care.”

Readers' comments (4)

  • Let's hope that the nursing profession has evidence that these wonderful values are actually followed and that they are championing the real value of nursing - rather than just nurses.

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  • if Nightingale were alive now, she would approach the assertion embedded in this comment by looking at the facts. She would abhor the incidents of poor care but she would get things into proportion and present the facts in such a way. i meet nurses every day who, despite very difficult circumstances, provide outstanding levels of care. it is not a crime to champion nurses as well as nursing- not last time I looked but those with an axe to grind will see things differently.

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  • tinkerbell

    Well done Betsi, Well done Florence, you may have had a falling out and then reconciled because you both knew that deeds are more important than words.

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  • Dear Nursing Times - please change the thumb on the link as it is showing a Scotish flag. Not very fitting or respectful for the crime oration of a Welsh nursing heroin!

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