Tim Harford, Florence Nightingale and Statistics


Journalist Tim Harford spoke at our AGM on 6th December to a packed audience representing the Hospice and Charity, including trustees, health professionals, volunteers and staff.

Harford was an extremely informative speaker on the subject of our namesake Florence Nightingale. Her work in the 1850s and beyond was truly pioneering.

Not only did Florence Nightingale found modern nursing, she also paved the way for infection control. This was through her use of statistics to monitor the impact of improved sanitation which saved the lives of soldiers being treated in Istanbul during the Crimean war. By counting the number of deaths, both before and after the visit of the Sanitary Commission, Nightingale was able to clearly demonstrate the link between improved sanitation and a fall in mortality. The whitewashing of walls, removal of dead animals and a marked improvement in hygiene resulted in fewer men dying from typhus, cholera and dysentery. 

Nightingale’s work in this area was unknown to most of the audience at the AGM and it was fascinating also to learn that she continued to work for improved conditions by lobbying politicians for much of her life. The audience also made the link to today, with questions about the importance of statistics which had been demonstrated during the recent pandemic when statistics were used to make major decisions about how the country coped with Covid. 

We are very grateful to Tim Harford for sharing his insights with us on the amazing Florence Nightingale. He was also very thankful to the staff of the Florence Nightingale Hospice to whom he paid tribute. 

Tim Harford:

BBC “More or Less” / Cautionary Tales 

Children’s book, The Truth Detective

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