As President Higgins visited London’s University College Hospital on Wednesday, Niall O’Sullivan met some of the many Irish staff who are proud to work in Britain’s National Health Service…
Helen O’Toole, 44, is lead nurse for pre-registration education and is originally from Co. Galway
“I trained in London and have worked in the NHS all of my life — it’s all I know. I’m very passionate about the delivery of care and the fact you can walk off the street into an NHS hospital and get excellent care without feeling under pressure that you might have to be removed from that service because you have not got enough money.
“I think we are very fortunate because that is not something that you can get in every part of the world. The NHS itself is an amazing phenomenon.
“I look after education of student nurses in this NHS Trust and we have Irish student nurses coming over now. I think Irish people have a good reputation for being caring and compassionate and perhaps that stems from where we come from.
“My aunt was an NHS nurse too and I think one of the key things that hasn’t changed is the ethos of putting the quality of patient care at the heart of everything we do.
“When I first came to Britain I missed my family a lot because I was lonely in my training. But the friends I made then are now my best friends.
“I remember doing a night shift on Christmas Day and going to one of the nurses’ houses and trying to stuff a turkey the wrong way. I rang my mum in Ireland and can still hear her saying ‘I cannot believe you can’t stuff a turkey properly’.
“I would say I still miss home, but I appreciate home more now as well. When I get to the sign that says ‘Welcome to Co. Galway’ my heart is pounding and I am at peace.”