My Lords, it is an honour to contribute to these speeches recognising the value that Her Majesty the Queen gave this country. There are over half a million nurses in the UK and she met many of them. She had been patron of the Royal College of Nursing since 1953 and will be sorely missed. Her interest was great. She met many Florence Nightingale Foundation scholars—I am president of that foundation—and many of those scholars lead our NHS trusts and community services. She worked with the Queen’s Nursing Institute and always had a deep interest in nursing. She met so many nurses from so many different countries, backgrounds and faiths, and they all valued the discussions she had with them.
As I got more senior, I met the Queen on several occasions, but what she wanted senior nurses to do was to introduce her to the people who were working on the floor or in the community—and, obviously, sometimes to patients. At the end of the pandemic, she said she recognised that nurses had played a very important part in our pandemic response. Of course, over the years she visited palliative care centres and children’s centres, and after the Manchester bomb, she spoke to a variety of nurses and patients. She also had quite an interest, as I have, in homelessness and how healthcare was delivered there. That issue has now been taken up by His Royal Highness Prince William. I also remind noble Lords how brilliant she was with people in distress: she coped with somebody breaking into her bedroom and kept them calm. That is quite a challenge.
I join other members of my profession in remembering a role model who took the rough with the smooth. The Queen was interested in all her people’s welfare and was fair and polite to everybody she came into contact with. I will just say that, although she did not know it was me, exactly 49 years ago I was a second-year student at the Westminster Hospital at a time when, on the whole, her staff and friends were admitted to the Westminster Hospital if they were not well. I was working in theatre and, in theatre, if you had been on night duty, you had to go down in the morning and collect the blood from the basement and bring it up to the theatres. You had to do that separately, so you did not muddle blood for different theatres. There were only two lifts: one for emergencies and the other for ordinary behaviour.
We were told at 6 am that nobody was to use the routine lift until 7 am, but I had the blood to collect, so I had several journeys down eight sets of stairs, because theatre was at the top and blood was in the basement. At 7.02 am, I was on my last trip and I thought, “Great, I can get into the lift.” So I pressed for the lift in the basement, it opened and there was our matron, whose name I can remember, with the Queen, who had overrun visiting a member of her staff. I stood with two bags of blood in each hand, curtsied, stood back and out of the lift they got. She just smiled at me—so many noble Lords have mentioned that smile. I spent the next 72 hours expecting to be called for by the matron. That did not happen and I am pretty convinced it was because the Queen probably laughed once she walked away from me.
I join others in sending my condolences to His Majesty King Charles III, his sons and his wife, the Queen Consort, Camilla, who I trust will support and comfort him throughout his reign in the way the Queen was supported by Prince Philip.