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12 May 2021 is International Nurses Day, the 201th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth and eagerly anticipated as the centrepiece celebration of the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

We’re still celebrating nurses and midwives but not how we expected. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought nursing and midwifery into the spotlight as never before. Alongside their fellow clinicians, care workers and other essential key workers they’ve been at the forefront of the Coronavirus response. We’ve marvelled at their expertise, been grateful for their care and mourned with them as their colleagues have died of this dreadful disease.

I’m sure we all have a story to tell about the impact nursing and midwifery professionals have had throughout this crisis. With her permission, I can share a story from one of my oldest friends. I’ve been friends with Bev since infant school, known her husband Chris since they got together in their twenties and love their three wonderful daughters to bits.

The whole family had Covid-19 symptoms, but Chris was affected worst. Fit and in his mid-fifties Bev described him becoming an old, shuffling man. After a call to 111 and a GP telephone consultation he was whisked into ICU and four days later he was on a ventilator. Four weeks later and some close calls along the way, he’s still on the ventilator but is improving. The doctors have called his progress remarkable. The hope Bev and her girls have been hanging onto is now blossoming.

These have been dark days for Bev – not able to be with Chris at such a critical time, limited telephone contact with the medical team treating him and being told to prepare for the worst…well, I won’t dwell on it, but you can just imagine. Throughout it all, the nurses have been immense. Their skill in monitoring, caring and advocating for Chris have been so evident and very much appreciated.

What they’ve done for Bev and the girls is just as important. They helped them sing Happy Birthday to him; supported them in recording WhatsApp audio messages to play to Chris when he was sedated; and now he is waking up have brought them all together through FaceTime.

One exchange in our umpteen text messages over the last few weeks shines a light on just how much this has all meant

This story is special to me because I know and love the people at the centre of it. There are thousands upon thousands more of these special stories – men, women and children in hospital, in the community, in care homes; acutely sick, recovering from illness, pregnant, with mental health needs, learning disabilities or living with long term conditions; all being skilfully cared for and treated with kindness and respect.

2020 will be remembered as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife for all of these reasons and more. It is a time to celebrate and look forward, building on the legacy of these extraordinary times. At the NMC we’re determined to play our part through our new strategy by promoting and upholding the highest professional standards in nursing and midwifery to protect the public and inspire confidence in the professions. The response to the pandemic has shown what a solid foundation we have to build from.

I’m so grateful to the nurses caring for my friends and I pay tribute to their professionalism and humanity. I know they’re not alone, and over 700,000 nurses, midwives and nursing associates on our register along with thousands of students on placement and waiting in the wings will be making a difference to people’s lives, today, tomorrow and in the years to come.

You are, as Dr Maya Angelou famously said, the “rainbow in someone else’s cloud”.

Thank you.

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