I wanted to do what I could just to highlight your achievements as individuals and as a profession and above all just to pay a very special tribute to you all because apart from anything else you’ve all been invited because you’ve made exceptional contributions in your field in so many different parts of the country.

I’m sorry I was unable to meet everybody this evening, The Countess and I have tried very hard! Perhaps between us we may have. But I just want to say, in hosting this reception I wanted to do what I could just to highlight your achievements as individuals and as a profession and above all just to pay a very special tribute to you all because apart from anything else you’ve all been invited because you’ve made exceptional contributions in your field in so many different parts of the country.

If I may say so, I think in speaking to a few of you tonight I’ve been astounded by some of the stories I’ve heard; of individual heroism and response to harrowing incidents, to sustained projects to do with healthcare for future generations, those of you working in mental health, midwifery and also with hospices, with, for instance, Macmillan cancer care which I have been patron of for a long time. So many I know are doing so much in your communities, frequently of course unsung and unseen.

So this at least, Ladies and Gentlemen is one small opportunity, inadequate though it may be, just to thank you on behalf of the whole nation for everything you do. And I do want to make sure you know that, apart from being part of the most trusted profession in the United Kingdom today, what you do, from what I can say anyway, is not taken for granted.

Because I know how many pressures you have to face, how many challenges, how difficult it is to retain nursing staff and sometimes even to recruit. And that so many of you have served so loyally and devotedly in the national health service for 30 or more years, so I suspect that there are some very remarkable grandmothers here.

And how you manage all your families as well is a wonderful example of organisation. But if I may say so, all the while, whatever you’re doing in nursing has continued to embody the central humanity that has always been associated with the profession. You’re always looking out for all of us, from the cradle to the grave.

Well I was describing to some of you how I was taken to Great Ormond Street Hospital, I think at the age of nine or ten, with a rapidly expanding appendix, and I was taken in an ambulance from the school I was then at, it took four hours in those days, and I have never forgotten how wonderfully I was looked after at Great Ormond Street.

When I went back to Windsor Castle I didn’t want to leave the hospital at all! And of course ladies and gentlemen the stated aim of the NHS when it was founded 70 years ago was, ‘from the cradle to the grave.’ And the thing is I am exactly the same age as the National health service. 1948, a very good vintage! I have a feeling less bits are falling off the national health service. But as I celebrate my birthday later this year, my 70th, I know a little bit about how things improve with age, although not always.

But I just wanted you to know, above all else, before you go home or you stay in London and have a well deserved night out, that thank God, Ladies and Gentlemen, that there are truly wonderful people like all of you here this evening. Your endless care and devotion, as I said, is not taken for granted so thank you more than I can say for the difference you make to this nation, thank you.