Life and Legacy of the UK's First Registered Nurse

Life and Legacy of the UK's First Registered Nurse

Ethel Gordon Fenwick was the first UK registered nurse.

Born in 1847, Ethel fought for the recognition and regulation of nurses by campaigning in parliament against the nurses’ roll; seen as a lesser form of regulation than full registration.

All of Ethel’s hard work led to the Nurses Registration Act 1919.

She was a woman of great tenacity and left a legacy behind in the nursing profession.

In 1887, Ethel founded the British Nursing Association and was appointed editor of The British Journal of Nursing in 1903. Both of these organisations were key in her campaign for the regulation of nurses.

Why is the Nurses’ Registration Act important?

Before the Act was passed, anyone could call themselves a nurse regardless of whether they had received any professional training. This under-regulated system caused problems as it put both nurses and patients at risk.

Ethel gave an account before parliament of a nurse who attempted to poison a Sister at St Bartholomew’sHospital. Instead of the nurse facing a criminal charge, she was quietly dismissed and moved on to find a new nursing job.

For the first time in British history, the Nurses’ Registration Act 1919 introduced regulation to the nursing profession and set standards for practice that all nurses had to follow.

As a result, a nurse would have to be over the age of 21; be able to provide three references of good character as well as show they had at least one years’ training and two years’ subsequent practice.

Ethel believed that by standardising the nursing profession, the Nurses Registration Act would remove bad nurses and make healthcare safer for patients.

You can find out more about Ethel here.

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