By James Millar
Earlier this year I received an email, like many I receive I glanced over it then ignored it not realising or understanding the opportunity contained within. Upon closer inspection I found that it was an invite to attend the Florence Nightingale Commemoration service at Westminster Abbey in London. After double checking it and – ever the sceptic – looking for the “catch”, I realised that myself and fellow student Christie, been nominated to attend. Naturally, I jumped at the chance!
Over the next couple of weeks, I exchanged several emails about the commemoration service, and it became apparent that our time in London would also include a student day at St Thomas hospital, and that we would be accompanied by Heather Bain – the Academic Strategic lead for Nursing and Midwifery at RGU. I was also delighted to learn that our flights and accommodation were to be arranged for by the university – thank you, RGU!
So, it was at 4:30am on Wednesday the 9th of May my alarm went off and I got ready to go meet Christie and hop on a plane down to London.
By 9am we had landed at London city airport and managed to negotiate the trains and tubes to arrive at Waterloo station. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we headed to St Thomas hospital to attend the student day, which began at 10:30am.
The student day took place in the Governors hall in St Thomas Hospital and consisted of around 80 students from across the UK, representing midwives and all the various nursing disciplines. We were placed into groups designed to promote inter-practice discussion and given a topic to create 2 questions from, which we would put towards a panel of inspirational personages from nursing and midwifery backgrounds. The panel consisted of Geoffrey Walker (Chair), Matron for Medicine/Specialist Medicine/Emergency and Ambulatory Care at Poole Hospital. Professor Ann Lloyd Keen Professor of Innovation Health for Older Care London South Bank University; Senior Scholar at the Hartford Institute, New York University; Fellow of Queens Nursing Institute; Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing; Trustee, The Florence Nightingale Foundation. Professor Ian Peate, Head of School, School of Health Studies, Gibraltar. Ursula Ward, Chief Executive, The Florence Nightingale Foundation. Professor Greta Westwood Chief Operating Officer, The Florence Nightingale Foundation. Rachael Corser, East & North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, Director of Nursing.
All the groups presented their questions, which ranged from the future of education to practice and gender equality issues. We received answers from members of the panel, provoking discussion and occasionally conflicting opinions. However, any disagreements originated in focus and priorities rather than any fundamental difference of opinion, and the discussions between the panel in answering our questions was enlightening.
While I enjoyed the Q&A session and learned a lot about the differences between the NHS Trusts in England and NHS Scotland, I felt that NHS Scotland was not represented on the panel and that any questions coming from Scottish Students about practice and education in Scotland were marginalised or deflected. However, the interactions with other students going through their own nursing or midwifery journeys made the day well worthwhile and has encouraged me to continue my own nursing journey.
Following the Q&A session we were given a guided tour of St Thomas hospital, the multi-faith chapel and the Florence Nightingale museum, which I would recommend to any nurse, student or qualified, as it gave a picture of how nursing has developed thanks to the hard work of people like Florence Nightingale. It was also interesting to learn a bit about Florence as a person, her interests, and even her grumpy pet owl Athena.
In the evening we made our way over Westminster bridge to Westminster Abbey to attend the Commemoration service for Florence Nightingale, which was a truly humbling experience. From the red coated arrival of the Chelsea Pensioners to the procession of the lamp with the Plymouth student nurses and the Matrons from her Majesties Nursing Corps, the inspiring speeches, stories and prayers made the service something I will remember for the rest of my life.
The following day, Heather Bain had arranged for us to meet with Kenny Gibson, the head of safeguarding, public health commissioning, early years, immunisations and military health with NHS England at Skipton house. Kenny went over his roles with us and the difficulties facing healthcare – especially in a large urban environment like London – and the technological innovations being used to overcome them, such as E-pens to online records. It was just as interesting to learn about Kenny’s nursing journey – coming from a small village outside Banff in rural Aberdeenshire to becoming head of Safeguarding in London was an inspirational story for myself and Christie to hear. Kenny worked as a domestic in the laundry at RCH before undertaking his training as a mental health nurse at RCH and Kingseat, from there he took every opportunity he could to develop and progress his learning.
After visiting Kenny, we took in some of the sights of London, Camden Market and the street performances at Covent Gardens were definitely highlights! We were then lucky enough to attend a small meeting at the home of the NMC in Portland Place before starting the journey home to Aberdeen.
I would like to thank the Florence Nightingale Foundation for inviting students from around the UK to attend the event, and all the staff at RGU who organised our travel, accommodation and ultimately suggested us as candidates to attend. Thanks also to Heather for arranging our visits and guiding us around London on the second day.