A chance to celebrate nursing – with the prime minister

When I received an email invitation from the prime minster to attend a celebration of nurses, carers and healthcare professionals, I thought for a minute it could be a hoax. Then I started seeing tweets from nursing colleagues about the same invite so I realised it clearly wasn’t.

I felt a sense of anticipation at the thought of actually going through the ‘No.10 door’ and of course it was a huge privilege to have been invited to represent nursing (and respiratory nursing in particular). Eventually the big day came around, and as I approached the famous gates I recognised some of the inspirational nurses I’ve been lucky enough to have met over the last few years, including award winners, scholars from the Florence Nightingale Foundation and Queens Nurses. Just standing in the queue was a celebration and we hadn't even met the PM yet.

As we approached the famous portal and entered No. 10 we had to leave our mobile phones in pigeon-holes near the door. We joked about the number of famous people and world leaders who had walked the same steps as we did that night. At the reception there was a real buzz in the air. The energy and excitement was almost palpable: this was about celebration and tonight was nursing’s chance to shine and cast off the shadow that has hung over the profession in recent times.

Everyone I met had a story to tell or had already told their story – there were winners from the compassion in practice story of the month, as well as many Care Makers. Jane Cummings, the chief nursing officer for England was there, as was Viv Bennett, director of nursing at the Department of Health.

I was introduced to health secretary Jeremy Hunt who asked about my work and where I was based. He was very interested to hear about COPD and understood the poor quality of life that patients experience. My respiratory colleagues asked him to visit their unique pulmonary rehabilitation programme in prisons and he accepted the invitation so watch this space.

I was then introduced to prime minister David Cameron. It felt quite surreal, putting politics aside for one moment, to shake hands with a man who has met some of the most influential leaders in the world who was now taking an interest in me and my work as a nurse. But he did seem interested to hear about the work we’ve done in Hackney on respiratory care. He asked me how you get to become Nurse of the Year, and we also talked about the Care Makers. We were joined by Julie Sheen, the Care Maker of the Year – now she really is a true inspiration to anyone who doubts nursing today.

Mr Cameron went on to meet other nurses and healthcare staff at the event and he was virtually mobbed as he tried to make his speech. He talked of tough times but praised the compassionate care of nurses and health visitors. The room almost erupted as people shouted out their profession. For me the evening highlighted what the NHS is all about: a diversity of roles standing together as one – one NHS of which every single person in that room was proud and honoured to be a part of.

An invitation to Downing Street is something I wish every nurse could experience. It made me feel that together we can and do make a difference. It was an occasion I’ll never forget – and I haven’t even mentioned the fantastic canapés…!

About the author

Matthew Hodson was Nursing Standard nurse of the year 2013 and is a nurse consultant at the Homerton University Hospital in Hackney, east London