Florence Nightingale, the pioneering nurse famous for her ground-breaking work in dramatically improving healthcare in Victorian times, was born on 12 May 1820 in Florence, Italy. Her work training and managing nurses during the Crimean War made her a national hero.
During her work in the Crimea, she reported horrendous conditions for injured British troops at Scutari Barracks in Turkey. A hospital at the barracks was only accessible by sea and up steep, winding slopes, and it lacked a proper water supply and drainage. Once inside, the injured faced further danger – it is reported that, for every soldier who died from his wounds, three would die from disease.
Her reports prompted the government to act. In 1855, Sir Benjamin Hawes, Permanent Under-Secretary to the War Office, who happened to be Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s brother-in-law, asked him to design and construct a better hospital for use in the Crimean War, one that could quickly be built in England and shipped to the Crimea.
Brunel come up with a design for a prefabricated hospital with 1,000 beds. Each unit would consist of two wards – each for 24 patients – and would be self-contained with its own toilets and nurses’ room. Each patient would have 1,000 cubic feet of air space and there would be one large ventilator fan and drainage system for each unit.
Brunel also designed new baths and wash basins from scratch. In addition to the wards, he designed surgery, dispensary and officers’ rooms made from wood, and a kitchen, laundry and bakery made of metal.
Brunel was asked to come up with the design in February 1855. It took him just two weeks!
23 ships carried 11,500 tonnes of material to Turkey and construction began in May. The new hospital at Renkioi began admitting patients in July 1855 and became fully functioning by that December.
It was only running for a short time before the end of the Crimean War in February 1856, but the entire operation was an incredible achievement – it received about 1,500 patients, only 50 of whom died. The figure represents 10 times fewer deaths than the previous hospital at Scutari.
Florence Nightingale’s legacy continues. The newly built hospitals for coronavirus patients, quickly set up in exhibition halls around the country, are known as the Nightingale hospitals.