Historical Healthcare Statistics: Florence Nightingale

Statistics permeates every aspect of 21st Century society. I’m thankful for statistical pioneers! I hope you enjoy this article from Julie Rehmeyer at Science News.
bh 2014-11

Florence Nightingale: The passionate statistician

She pioneered the use of applied statistics to develop policy and developed novel ways of displaying them.

By Julie Rehmeyer | 3:13pm, November 26, 2008
When Florence Nightingale arrived at a British hospital in Turkey during the Crimean War, she found a nightmare of misery and chaos. Men lay crowded next to each other in endless corridors. The air reeked from the cesspool that lay just beneath the hospital floor. There was little food and fewer basic supplies.
COXCOMB Nightingale created many novel graphics to present statistics that would persuade Queen Victoria of the need to improve sanitary conditions in military hospitals. The area of each region shows the number of soldiers who died of wounds, disease, or other causes, during each month of the Crimean War. Credit: Public domain.
COXCOMB Nightingale created many novel graphics to present statistics that would persuade Queen Victoria of the need to improve sanitary conditions in military hospitals. The area of each region shows the number of soldiers who died of wounds, disease, or other causes, during each month of the Crimean War. Credit: Public domain.

By the time Nightingale left Turkey after the war ended in July 1856, the hospitals were well-run and efficient, with mortality rates no greater than civilian hospitals in England, and Nightingale had earned a reputation as an icon of Victorian women. Her later and less well-known work, however, saved far more lives. She brought about fundamental change in the British military medical system, preventing any such future calamities. To do it, she pioneered a brand-new method for bringing about social change: applied statistics.

When Nightingale returned from the war, she was obsessed with a sense of failure, even though the public adored her. Despite her efforts, thousands of men had died needlessly during the war from illnesses they acquired in the hospital. “Oh, my poor men who endured so patiently,” she wrote to a friend, “I feel I have been such a bad mother to you, to come home and leave you lying in your Crimean graves, 73 percent in eight regiments during six months from disease alone.” Without widespread changes in Army procedures, the same disaster could occur again, she worried.

So she began a campaign for reform. She persuaded Queen Victoria to appoint a Royal Commission on the Army medical department, and she herself wrote an 830-page report. Her stories, she decided, weren’t enough. She turned to William Farr, who had recently invented the field of medical statistics, to help her identify the reasons for the calamity and the necessary policy changes. He advised her, “We do not want impressions, we want facts.”

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/florence-nightingale-passionate-statistician

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