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Why Dame Cicely Saunders should be the new face of the £50 note

The Bank of England recently announced plans for a new £50 note, and have called for the public to nominate figures who have made significant contributions to science.

King’s is taking this opportunity to highlight some of the esteemed scientists who have worked here as staff or students, leaving behind a lasting legacy.

This week we’ll be putting a spotlight on scientists from a range of fields, and we hope that you’ll consider nominating them for this prestigious honour.

King’s alumna Dame Cicely Saunders was a trained nurse, medical social worker and physician who pioneered the modern hospice movement and the contemporary approach to palliative care. She founded St Christopher’s Hospice in 1967 as the first hospice linking research and clinical care, transforming the approach to treating people at the end of life.

Let’s see how Saunders meets the criteria set out by the Bank of England. 

It must be someone who has contributed to the field of science

Saunders was studying philosophy, politics and economics at St Anne’s College, Oxford, before the outbreak of World War II compelled her to train as a nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital Nightingale School of Nursing. After graduating in 1944, Saunders worked as a hospital almoner (now known as a social worker) and then returned to King’s to train as a doctor at St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School, graduating in 1957.

Saunders had a goal to create a home-like environment where people coming to the end of their lives were offered not just hope and comfort but also the best medical care and symptom control. In 1967, her vision became a reality, with the opening of St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham, south east London. 

"Death must not be seen as a failure, but as part of life."– Dame Cicely Saunders

The person must have shaped thought, innovation, leadership or values in the UK

Saunders pioneered a complete change in the treatment of people at the end of life, and the practice of medicine as a whole.

There were many hospices providing expert nursing care prior to the establishment of St Christopher’s, however the latter was revolutionary in uniting expert pain and symptom control, compassionate care, teaching and clinical research to treat the patient holistically. Previously, many patients died in hospitals rather than in their own homes, and hospital practice at the time was to give inadequate and infrequent injections of morphine that left many patients in uncontrolled pain.

Saunders pioneered an approach at St Christopher’s than considered the patient’s physical, spiritual and psychological wellbeing in their entirety, and suggested a systematic approach to controlling symptoms. Throughout her career, Saunders continuously evaluated new approaches to care and suggested improvements. This included carrying out studies demonstrating that morphine given orally in the right dosage, at the right interval, could provide constant pain relief without addiction. She also oversaw the development in 1969 of the first service to deliver care to patients in their own homes and worked to get palliative medicine recognised as a speciality by the Royal College of Physicians.

The individual cannot be alive

Saunders died peacefully on 14 July 2005 at the age of 87, in the world-famous hospice that she founded. At the time of her death, there were some 200 hospices in the UK and similar programmes in 115 countries across the world. 

Cicely Saunders_promo

Lastly, the figure must inspire people, not divide them

Saunders demonstrated incredible empathy and compassion coupled with a rational and nuanced understanding of the role that modern medicine could play at the end of a person’s life. The author of over 85 publications that have been translated around the world, Saunders strove throughout her lifetime and career to share her knowledge and expertise as widely as possible.

Her vision to establish ‘a team who work together to relieve where they cannot heal, to keep the patient's own struggle within his compass and to bring hope and consolation to the end,’ has led to the establishment of hundreds of hospices both in the UK and abroad. Her life’s work has had an immeasurable impact on the approach to guiding people through the final stages of life.

Vote for Dame Cicely Saunders on the Bank of England website or go directly to the nomination page: 

Dame Cicely Saunders' vision is continued today through the work of King’s Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care, Policy & Rehabilitation which supports not only end-of-life care but also helps people to live well and improve the quality of life for people facing the problems associated with complex life-threatening illnesses. 

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