Today marks International Nurses’ Day, an opportunity for us all to recognise and celebrate the selfless contribution of nurses everywhere after what has been the most challenging of years.

It was in response to the horrors of the Crimean war that Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole turned our natural caring instinct into a profession. Both nurses travelled the hundreds of miles to a foreign peninsula to tend for the British soldiers wounded in war.

Among their many achievements, it was their emphasis on hygiene that was credited with saving so many lives. They pioneered the implementation of sanitary regulations in field hospitals so that the wounded could be looked after away from the dirt and squalor. The impact of their work continues to save lives today, in the simple act of washing hands with soap and water.

Florence Nightingale’s work was recognised and praised by the British public who responded by raising thousands of pounds to support this new profession. She used these funds to set up what was probably the world’s first nursing school in St Thomas’s Hospital. The result was the birth of a profession that combines the healing power of tender care with the rigour of science and clinical skills. More than 170  years later, the nursing profession has deployed the same mixture of expertise, care and training in our latest global battle, the fight against the Covid-19 virus. In care homes and hospitals it is often the healthcare assistants, nurses and nursing associates who have provided compassion at the bedside of our loved ones when we could not be there. The duty of a nurse is seen by many as a lifelong commitment and over the last year more than 2,000 nurses have returned to the NHS to provide vital care in hospitals, mental health services and community services.

The pandemic has highlighted the crucial role of nurses and continues to inspire a generation of care-givers who will shape the future. It is encouraging to hear that so many people are inspired by the work of our nurses, with a 32 per cent increase in the number of applications to study nursing at universities across the UK.

So, after a year which has seen so many of us confronted with loss and change, it is right that we take time to praise and thank our nurses who devote themselves to caring for others.

Yesterday, I visited the hospital that tended for my father. I was glad to meet some of the wonderful nurses who provided their skill and care during his time there. They embody the spirit of duty, care and professionalism that makes us all feel grateful and proud. So, today, I am thinking of them and of all nurses who continue to help us through this pandemic. They deserve our thoughts and thanks.