Exhibition explores a century of nursing during epidemics

Pandemic! Nursing 100 years of infection exhibition traces the evolution of nurses' roles

Pandemic! Nursing 100 years of infection exhibition traces the evolution of nurses' roles

TB sanitorium nurses in 1906 attend to patients as they are exposed to fresh air

An exhibition charting nurses’ roles during disease epidemics over the past century opens at RCN Scotland’s headquarters on Thursday. 

‘Pandemic! Nursing 100 years of infection’ includes photographs of nurses caring for patients with a range of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis (TB), influenza and Ebola.  

Spanish flu

One image from 1919 shows nurses from Hampstead Military Hospital in London wearing flu masks during the Spanish flu epidemic. During the epidemic, which began a year earlier, nursing care was the only treatment available to many.

Fever nurses washed and fed the sick, applied poultices and lotions, and monitored patients’ temperature and breathing.

RCN professional lead for infection prevention and control Rose Gallagher said some aspects of preventing infection had changed little in the past century.

Ms Gallagher said: 'Hygiene standards, such as regular hand washing and isolating infectious patients, are still a critical element of infection-control nursing today.

‘We are fortunate that today we have laboratories and antibiotics to help us and must remember those nurses who historically risked their lives to care for the sick.'

The threat from microorganisms

She warned that microorganisms and the seriousness of infection they bring should never be underestimated and warned that flu remained a constant threat today.

Another image, (above) from 1906, shows nurses on balconies caring for patients with TB, while more recent images show nurses in full body suits.

Public health leaflets used to raise awareness of HIV and a poster showing brightly coloured condoms promoting safe sex also feature. 

The exhibition, which was previously staged in London, is at RCN Scotland’s offices in Edinburgh until March 2019.

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