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Why she loathed Florence Nightingale and was dubbed a prostitute; THE REAL BETSI CADWALADR: PART 2.

BETSI Cadwaladr is dubbed the Welsh Florence Nightingale by some - but that's an ironic accolade in many respects. Betsi worked for Nightingale during the Crimean War - and loathed her. The two were totally dissimilar both in their backgrounds and their approach to nursing.

There is in fact a strong case for saying that Betsi was a better nurse than Florence, in that for her patient care was paramount - not rules and regulations.

Betsi was the no-nonsense, down-to-earth sort who simply wanted to roll up her sleeves and get on with the job of looking after seriously wounded patients.

Significantly, when she arrived in the Crimea, she realised that Florence Nightingale's nursing operation was 100 miles away from the frontline at Balaclava. That was where the injured needed nurses and Betsi, against Nightingale's wishes, insisted on going there.

In Balaclava she set about transforming conditions in the military hospital. She dressed festering, maggot-ridden wounds; ordered bed linen to be changed and washed; got the patients proper food; and ensured that supplies sent out to them from Britain actually got to them.

It was, by any standards, heroic stuff. Yet Betsi Cadwaladr, or Elizabeth Davis as she called herself in England, has her detractors.

To this day, some members of the medical profession in North Wales mock her as a prostitute who suffered from syphilis, or something similar.

But nobody will say so on that record and nor does there appear to exist much evidence.

That said, she was nobody's fool and her hands were not just for caring - on a number of occasions she could be physical and aggressive if she felt under threat.

So what should we make of Betsi today? Is she a nursing icon and an inspiration to the nurses of today, or too flawed a character to be venerated? Professor Donna Mead, dean of the faculty of health, sport and science at the University of Glamorgan, is the driving force behind the campaign to ensure Betsi Cadwaladr's name is championed.

Her starting point was Betsi's own autobiography published in the 19th century with the help of writer Jane Williams and republished by Honno in the 1980s. It's still in print. "I found it and read it and was totally inspired by it," says Professor Mead.

She then gave a paper on Nurses' Day for the Royal College of Nursing Wales. Professor Mead spoke about Betsi and threw down a challenge to them. "At the end of that speech I challenged the Royal College of Nursing Welsh board to adopt Betsi as a nursing heroine. We are not that long after devolution, there was a new identity for Wales so I said, 'I challenge you to adopt her and to find ways to honour this woman in the country of her birth and in our nation'."

She's as a nursing by some in profession and others.

There's certainly '." The challenge was accepted and last year Betsi was officially made a nurse heroine of the RCN

that Betsi Cadwaladr and at times impetuous Today, in the second reports, ROB look at how record her What Five years ago, when the Welsh NHS was shaken up and trusts merged, the question arose of the naming of the new health board for North Wales.

The then Welsh health minister Edwina Hart wanted the new boards named after famous Welsh dignitaries.

Prof Mead had by this time put together a strong case for the board in medical at by no doubt was a colourful woman. of his special takes a should and asks: is her legacy? North Wales to be dedicated to Betsi Cadwaladr, and the minister had accepted this recommendation.

But Prof Mead hit a snag. "A number of consultants wrote to the health minister to object to this. And the grounds upon which they objected was that they thought she was something of a prostitute who spent her time in the docks of Liverpool and I think the subtext was that she was a woman and a nurse.

"They demanded that the name was changed - well that was to underestimate the then health minister Edwina Hart who is a formidable woman."

Prof Mead refutes the derogatory claims made about Betsi, and says her death certificate back this up. "Betsi was an absolutely devout Christian - her faith was the mainstay of her life. She carried a Bible with her every day of her life, she called it her constant companion," says Prof Mead.

"She was very well respected wherever she worked. She went out to the Crimea and in order to do that she had to go through a very strict selection process - by definition they would not have selected a pox-ridden old hag.

"They had to be women of good character, good morals, with a good background in order to be selected to go out to the Crimea. So the doctors of North Wales didn't do their homework really. Betsi would work 18 hours a day, seven days a week, running the wards and the kitchen out in the Crimea."

Donna Mead isn't troubled by the colourful stories from her earlier life and Betsi's robust way of dealing with troublesome admirers, burglars and anyone else who crossed her path.

"She was a formidable and feisty woman, she could occasionally be fickle too. She chased burglars down the street - we are trying to get hold of the court records because these burglars were brought to book because she chased them down the street and floored one of them.

"The soldiers (in the Crimea) loved Betsi as well - and of all classes. When she discovered that the officers were often the least well cared for because they were expected to pay for all provisions, Betsi ransacked the warehouses and brought provisions to them. In a way, she reflected to me one of the founding principles of the NHS - care at the point of need, regardless of the ability to pay. Nightingale would deprive them because they were meant to pay."

Although Betsi was over 60 before she went to the Crimea, she had spent a great deal of her life nursing, Prof Mead points out.

"In all her travels overseas she would look after children, deliver babies - her role was caregiver. She went down to Balaclava - Nightingale was 100 miles away from where the fighting was. Balaclava was an absolute cesspit - what men had there was very rudimentary indeed and she reorganised things totally and reorganised the systems so that men could have what they needed and when they needed it."

Deirdre Beddoe, Emeritus professor at the University of Glamorgan, was the academic who wrote the introduction to Betsi's republished autobiography in 1986 and is fulsome in her praise.

"I am delighted that North Wales has paid tribute to the amazing Betsi Cadwaladr by naming a health board after her and that the Royal College of Nursing has adopted her as an icon of good nursing," she says.

"I am a huge admirer of Betsi and was distressed to hear that some opponents of naming the hospital board after her had tried to besmirch her good name. I have spent a great deal of time researching Betsi's life and know her to have been a deeply religious, morally upright and virtuous woman. Any attempt to depict Betsi as a drunken, immoral, disease-ridden old hag is totally absurd. Betsi may have travelled the world in her adventures, but she remained a good girl - a real Bala Methodist - at heart.

"As a nurse in the Crimean War Betsi's major contribution to nursing the sick and wounded soldiers can be summed up in one word: compassion. It is interesting that nowadays, when a lack of compassion and caring by nurses has become a major issue, to look back to Betsi. For her nothing was too much trouble to make a wounded or sick man comfortable. Her kindness lives on through the years."

And Gabriela Boncea, a nurse at Cartref Bryn yr Eglwys nursing home in Pentrefoelas, Betws-y-Coed, says her own nursing has been influenced by Betsi Cadwaladr. Gabriela put on an exhibition about Betsi's life in December 2011 to mark the life of a nurse who grew up just 20 miles away from where she worked.

"I think Betsi was all about hands-on nursing, the patient was at the centre of her work and she was the one who was there to notice the needs of the injured soldiers and she was trying her best to accommodate those needs," says Gabriela.

"I am a Romanian nurse, I work in Wales but I am inspired by her. Putting the patient at the centre of your work is what I have learned here and what I have tried to share with my colleagues in Romania when I've gone back there.

"Betsi genuinely wanted to help and she saw the need for someone to go out to the Crimea and help those injured soldiers, she was genuine in her willingness and desire to help those in need.

"After she returned she died because of the conditions she had to work and live in while in the Crimea," says Gabriela. "Betsi paid the ultimate price for her dedication."

to She's hailed as a nursing icon by some in the medical profession and sneered at by others. There's certainly no doubt that Betsi Cadwaladr was a colourful and at times impetuous woman.

Today, in the second of his special reports, ROB DAVIES takes a look at how history should record her and asks: What is her legacy? trusts to to the


Tribute: Donna Mead (right) and Tina Donnelly, Director of RCN Wales, at a service to dedicate Betsi's headstone

Huge admirer: Prof Deirdre Beddoe

Inspired: Nurse Gabriela Boncea

Heroine: A painting of Betsi Cadwaladr (1789-1860) by Anna Todd
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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EXUR
Date:Jan 29, 2013
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