Anonymous ‘Florence Smith’ Rallies New Zealand Nurses

Image from Florence Smith (Facebook) by Radinka Maru

Two anonymous New Zealand nurses have again demonstrated the value of social media in mobilizing nurses to make their voice heard. The page created by “Florence Smith” for nurses to share the stories went viral within days. It then snowballed into a national movement with marches across the country on Nurses Day and a petition which was presented to parliament.

On Saturday, March 4 two nurses from opposite sides of New Zealand launched a Facebook page with the pseudonym Florence Smith and with the hashtag #HearOurVoices. Nurses were encouraged to share their stories about working conditions. The goal was to unite nurses in speaking up rather than their usual getting on and getting the work done. The founders retained anonymity for fear of repercussions by breaking the nurses’ code of confidentiality.

The page went viral overnight and, after a complaint by a third party, was even shut down temporarily on Wednesday, March 8. The anonymous founders had to prove that they were real people. By Thursday there had been more than 13,000 friend requests.

From the ‘Florence Smith’ page: 

From a wife of a nurse –
To my husband,

I have watched as you come home more and more broken. I have watched you cry from the pressure you feel, watched you break down in front of our children. I have watched you get back up every day and go to work because you care, because you are a nurse. I have attempted to understand what you do, attempted to support you the best I care. I don’t know what else I can do for you, but stand with you during this difficult time.

You are a powerful, strong and caring man like many other nurses in the health system. You are wonderful. Keep fighting.

You and the other nurses, hcas and midwifes deserve more.

I will be with you until “they” hear you.

#hearourvoice

Soon there was a need for broader access to the information and a Facebook group, “New Zealand please hear our voice,” was created. It calls on nurses to make their voice heard in the group and to stand together and fight for what is right to enable nurses to continue caring for those who need it. Membership has grown to nearly 40,000, with support from nurses as well as members of the public.

The idea of an online petition took root. A march to hand it over to parliament spiraled into Nurses Day marches in 15 cities across the country. Thousands of nurses, as well as members of the public, took to the streets. Many were wearing the badges, paper nurse caps, and t-shirts sporting the Nurse Florence logo. In some of the cities umbrellas were more visible than the logo – but still, the nurses marched on.

At each of the gatherings, a letter from the two nurses representing the Nurse Florence persona was read out. They thanked everyone who came out to march for safer staffing and working conditions. Nurses have had put up for too long with unsafe working conditions and understaffing – placing themselves and their patients at risk.

Nurses had been silent because they were told that their code of confidentiality prevents them from speaking up about problems. “If we are silent about them, how can we expect there to be any change? What will motivate our leaders to make that change? […] Who is looking out for the nurses of New Zealand?” wrote Nurse Florence. “The current health system with its chronic understaffing forces nurses to view patients as a checklist.”

The letter also addressed the fatigue and burnout suffered by many nurses, the violence nurses are exposed to, and their pain at not being able to provide the level of care they want to.

Nurse Florence further expressed frustration that all attempts to contact government representatives had gone unheeded. It was using the excuse of current salary negotiations with the nurses’ union. The Nurse Florence movement was however on behalf for all nurses, not only those working for the District Health Boards.

The letter concluded by asking every Member of Parliament to think about the kind of nursing care they would want for themselves or their loved ones.

The march in Wellington ended at parliament to hand over the “Hear our Voice” online petition, with over 37,000 signatures. Addressed to Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, it was accepted late afternoon by National MP Lawrence Yule with the promise that it would be presented to parliament.

The petition emphasizes inadequate staffing levels and its risks to patients and nurses, as well as the future availability of nursing manpower. The solutions suggested are a pay increase in line with nurses’ education, skills and experience; measures to reduce violence against nurses; and a safe working environment.

The petition was presented to parliament on May 16 and referred to the Health Committee. In a post on Facebook, Nurse Florence encouraged all nurses to help make a massive impact once submissions are called for. Every citizen is entitled to make a submission to the select committee. “We can make working conditions LAW,” she wrote.