Next year the world turns its attention to the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, and recognising and celebrating the humbling work that you and your colleagues do day in, day out, to improve the lives of others. You are there for women at their most vulnerable; you witness strength, pain and unimaginable joy on a daily basis.
Your work often goes on behind the scenes, and away from the spotlight. Recently however, I was privileged enough to witness a small section of it first hand, spending several days at Kingston Hospital's Maternity Unit. Although this was not my first encounter with the care and kindness provided by midwives across the country, it gave me a broader insight into the true impact you have on everybody you help.
Over the last few years, I've dedicated a significant amount of my work to the Early Years - the pivotal period of development between pregnancy and the age of 5 where children build crucial .foundations for life. Your role in supporting this critical phase of development extends far beyond the complicated task of delivering a baby successfully.
The help and reassurance you provide for parents to be and parents of newborns is just as crucial. It goes a long way in building parents' confidence from the start, with lifelong impact on the future happiness of their children.
The Early Years are more critical for future health and happiness than any other moment in our lifetime. Even before we are born, our mother's emotional and physical health directly influences our development and by the age of 5 a child's brain has developed to 90 per cent of its adult size. Your role at the very start of this period is therefore of fundamental importance.
During my time at Kingston I accompanied community midwives on their daily rounds and was welcomed in to people's homes. I was truly touched by the trust that people placed in me, sharing their experiences and voicing their fears openly. I also spent time in hospital clinics and on post-natal wards. No matter the setting, I was continually struck by the compassion that those of you I spent time with showed, and the incredible work ethic you demonstrated on behalf of your entire profession - not only performing your rounds but working tirelessly through the night to support people that were at their most vulnerable.
The founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale - whose 200th anniversary we celebrate next year, once said: "I attribute my success to this: I never have or took an excuse" and it is that mantra that I have seen time and time again in all of my encounters with you. You don’t ask for praise or for recognition but instead unwaveringly continue your amazing work bringing new life into our world. You continue to demonstrate that despite your technical mastery and the advancement of modern medicine, it is the human to human relationships and simple acts of kindness that sometimes mean the most.
So as we look ahead to next year, I want to thank you for all that you do. It has been a real privilege learning from you so far, and I look forward to meeting and learning from even more of you in the coming years and decades.