Learning from the past? Spanish influenza and the lessons for Covid-19

Olivia Gordon, Amanda Gwinnup, Christine E Hallett

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


This study focuses on the resonances between the experiences of British nurses during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19 and those of today’s frontline nurses caring for patients with Covid-19. 100 years ago, nurses performed two highly significant roles. Alongside their complex, clinical work caring for individual influenza patients, they also acted as ‘emblems of resilience’ for a society in crisis and had a calming influence on the population. This calm and courageous image presented by nurses in the early 20th century belied the pressure they were under; many became severely traumatised as a result of their experiences. This study examines not only the mirage of safety and control presented by nurses, but also the toll this collective mask of resilience took on the individuals behind it. In doing so, it asks whether societies are condemned to repeat the errors of the past and, if so, does it become the role of frontline carers to carry the burden of those mistakes?
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages5
Specialist publicationNursing times
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


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