Covid-19
Florence Nightingale had visited Malta – was impressed by the Knights’ respect towards the sick

On the 200th anniversary of the birth of nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, the World Health Organisation has dedicated this year to midwives and nurses.

A number of activities worldwide had been planned for this year, but the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted everything. Nurses, however, are being looked upon as heroes because of their involvement with coronavirus patients.

The priceless work carried out by nurses is recalled on 12 May, the birth date of Florence Nightingale who is considered the pioneer of modern-day nursing. This year’s anniversary is even more special, not only because it commemorates the 200th anniversary of her birth, but also because of the commitment and sacrifices being shown by nurses during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Director of Nurses and Midwives, Vince Saliba, pointed out that there are some 3,500 nurses in Malta and Gozo, between 11% and 15% of whom are foreigners, many from India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Mr Saliba explained that foreign staff are bound by contract to undergo a short course in the Maltese language, and failure to conclude the course successfully will mean they can no longer work.

“If you don’t have a vocation for helping, you cannot think in terms of a nursing vocation,” Mr Saliba added.

Dr Catherine Sharples, a nurse who researched and studied the historic aspect of nursing, explained that the first legislation giving due recognition to nurses was enacted in 1936. Dr Sharples added that the first nurses in Malta were trained by nuns. Few, however, actually studied to become nurses, as there was no local tradition of females working outside the home, and this was not a profession which attracted males. Dr Sharples added that up to 1964 only 28 nurses were registered, as well as many nuns. Today many nurses continue to study to Masters and even Doctorate level.

Dr Sharples added that Florence Nightingale also left her impact on Malta, which she visited on two occasions – first as a tourist in 1849 and the second time on her way to the Crimean war.

“Florence Nightingale wrote that she wished she had learned nursing from the Knights of St John, after visiting Malta and seeing how they looked after the sick. They considered the sick as ‘Their Lordships’ – our lords, the sick,” Catherine Sharples added.

Midwife Pauline Borg described her profession as a vocation based on science.

The presence of a midwife during labour helps to prevent what we refer to as morbidity and mortality; if we have a strong local system of midwifery, we can reduce the rate of complications and problems, as well as deaths in maternity,” Pauline Borg added.

On this day, the Council of Nurses and midwives launched a code of ethics and practice as well as professional criteria for nurses and midwives, which have just been reviewed and updated. Midwives and nurses are regulated by a Council, which also maintains registers and ensures anyone applying for registration has the necessary qualifications.

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