Features | By Shamin Quadir

Celebrating the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife

The World Health Assembly designated 2020 as the first International Year of the Nurse and Midwife to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the birth of pioneering nurse, Florence Nightingale. The year recognises the invaluable contributions of nurses and midwives to world health and the risks associated with shortages within the nursing and midwifery professions.


Nurses worldwide provide a vast range of essential services to address patient care, in settings ranging from community clinics to intensive care units in hospitals. Midwives ensure that mothers and their new-borns are safe and supported wherever they live. Yet both professions are facing significant recruitment and retention challenges, particularly in middle- and low-income countries.


While the Triple Impact Report identified that increasing the number of nurses globally will improve health, promote gender equality and support economic growth in communities, the World Health Organization estimates that the world needs a further nine million nurses and midwives to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.


The importance of nurses and midwives has also been brought into dramatic focus this year by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the courageous efforts they, and all health workers, are making in putting the welfare of others above their own.


At City, University of London we join the worldwide celebration to commemorate the outstanding achievements and sacrifices of our nursing and midwifery students, staff and alumni. We are justifiably proud of our long-standing contribution to the training and development of nurses and midwives; and of the world-leading research we undertake to advance evidence-based practice and ultimately to improve health outcomes.

A pandemic unfolds


In March 2020, as the spread of the novel coronavirus was escalating in the UK, one of the first responses was to build facilities with the capacity to treat exceptionally high numbers of patients. A key capacity building initiative implemented by NHS England was the construction of several temporary critical care hospitals, named the NHS Nightingale Hospitals. The first was constructed within 10 days at ExCeL London to treat up to 4,000 patients. Leanne Aitken, Professor of Critical Care Nursing at City, was invited to join the team establishing the hospital to provide training and education to the healthcare staff who would be based there. Commenting at the time, she said:


“The importance of developing staff to be confident and prepared to provide safe patient care for very vulnerable patients should not be underestimated.”


With the pandemic escalating, additional staff from our School of Health Sciences increased or returned to clinical roles; and hundreds of City students joined the NHS workforce including student nurses, midwives, speech and language therapists and radiographers.


Speaking of her experience Katie, a second year BSc Midwifery student, said:


“Once I was back in my scrubs and with the new addition of a mask, I was ready to go. I instantly felt a sense of pride and purpose, the shifts were still just as tiring and just as busy but there was a buzz in the air. I was back doing what I loved and providing support to women and their families as much as I could. “


Sam, a second year BSc Mental Health Nursing student, said:


“The pandemic has brought many new learning experiences for me which have allowed me to grow as a mental health student nurse, for example the management of physical health and COVID-19 through barrier nursing. I am hoping that the new skills will aid me throughout my training and future career.”


We recognise the huge contributions healthcare students across the nation have made over this period; and those of registered healthcare professionals, including those who tragically lost their lives. They include at least seven School of Health Sciences alumni, including a doctor and trained and practising nurses and midwives.


City honours the memory of Dr Mamoona Rana; Onyenachi Obasi, health visitor and nurse; Michael Allieu, staff nurse; Mary Oniah trained nurse and midwife and her husband James, retired radiologist, who also passed; Jennie Sablayan, haematology nurse; Margaret Njenga, midwife; and Adekunle Enitan, intensive care nurse.


Professor Debra Salmon, Dean of the School of Health Sciences paid tribute the members of the School’s alumni, saying:


‘We feel greatly the loss of our alumni colleagues in the health and care sector, who tragically lost their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. They dedicated their lives and careers to improving the health and care of others; all will be remembered always for their commitment, professionalism and compassion. Our thoughts are with their families, friends and colleagues at this very difficult time’.

Nursing and Midwifery at City’s School of Health Sciences


As part of our International Year of the Nurse and Midwife celebrations, we look back on our own nursing and midwifery roots; to key individuals who made invaluable contributions to the progress of the professions; and to colleagues who are making the same invaluable contributions today.


We proudly celebrate the work of Ethel Bedford Fenwick, born in 1857, who campaigned for over 30 years for the establishment of a register for nurses in the UK. As Matron at St Bartholomew’s School of Nursing and Midwifery from 1881 to 1887, Ethel founded the Barts Training School for Nurses, which became part of City, University of London in 1995.


Earlier this year, we were delighted to welcome nurse and campaigner, Rohit Sagoo, to City as a Lecturer in Children’s Nursing. Rohit founded the British Sikh Nurses initiative in April, 2015 with the mission to raise awareness of physical and mental health issues; and to provide education on wellbeing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle to members of the Sikh community, wider BAME communities and beyond.


We are proud of our many partnership projects with NHS Trusts across London including a new intervention, developed with Barts Health NHS Trust, which aims to improve retention of nursing students and early career nurses. Supported by a grant from The Burdett Trust for Nursing, the project has empowered students and early career nurses to build professional networks, work effectively within them and embed their sense of connectedness to their employing organisation.


Alongside the recognition of important individuals in nursing, we also celebrate the work of our midwifery academics who drive positive change in practice across the world.


This includes celebrating the life and work of midwife Dora Opoku, OBE (1948 to 2010) who was Head of Midwifery at City from 1995 until her retirement in 2010. Dora was a leading figure in the development of midwifery education in London. She chaired the East London and The City Research Ethics Committee and was appointed OBE in recognition of services to midwifery education. Dora is also recognised as one of City’s Extraordinary Women who have been ready to try, to challenge and to lead; making life better for others and pushing the boundaries of what can be accomplished.



Based at City and led by midwifery lecturer, Dr Lucia Rocca Ihenacho, The Midwifery Unit Network (MUNet) supports and promotes the development and growth of midwifery units (birth centres), primarily across Europe but also further afield. MUNet held its first European conference in November 2019 and has since developed the Midwifery Unit Standards, which have been translated into several languages.


Established in 2019 by Dr Susan Bradley and Professor Christine McCourt of City’s Centre for Maternal and Child Health, the Midwifery Units Networking Project has developed links with partners in low- and middle-income countries to improve midwifery-led care by facilitating research to address the challenges such countries face. The project is currently conducting development work in Brazil, India, Malawi and Sudan.


We are immensely proud of the significant role we play at City in the training and development of student nurses and midwives; and of the vital role they go on to play in providing and improving health services across the UK and beyond.


To find out more, visit the Nursing and Midwifery course pages.