The Patient's Choice Award
Voting for the RCN Nursing Awards 2021 Patient's Choice Award closed at midnight on Friday 3rd September.
A. Angela Gallagher
Paediatric Oncology Outreach Nurse Specialist , Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust
Former nurse Linda Davies has nominated the community paediatric oncology outreach nurse specialist Angela Gallagher who has been caring for her daughter and has consistently gone above and beyond any reasonable expectation to effectively support her whole family.
Ms Davies’ daughter Alexandra was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2020 and her parents, who are healthcare professionals, have been ‘consistently impressed and humbled’ by Ms Gallagher’s knowledge and her dedication to her job and all the families she cares for.
Ms Davies says: ‘She conducts her duties with honesty and integrity even when communicating difficult news and discussing sensitive information. She is unfailingly respectful and kind and she can make you feel better just by being in the room.’
She adds: ‘We are a same-sex couple and our daughter was conceived using assisted conception. Ms Gallagher has taken the time to understand our circumstances and has been willing to advocate for us when other parts of the service have been less sensitive.’
Despite their healthcare backgrounds, the couple found that this has not helped them meet the challenges their daughter’s illness has presented, which has meant Ms Gallagher’s support and availability has been invaluable.
‘She is easy to contact and if she is on leave, she communicates well with us and her colleagues to ensure we are well supported. She adds that Ms Gallagher’s experience shows in her ability to plan and pre-empt issues, which has made the family’s journey through their daughter’s acute treatment ‘immeasurably less traumatic’.
‘Ms Gallagher has used her experience to anticipate problems that my daughter might face, this included her calling to our house on her day off to check her bloods and organise a blood transfusion during the Christmas holidays. This enabled my daughter to avoid developing symptomatic anaemia and enduring the stress of an acute admission.
‘Ms Gallagher has come to our home to give my daughter chemotherapy on her days off even over Christmas, which we really appreciated. This allowed us to spend valuable time at home together.
‘Only one of us could accompany our daughter when she went into hospital and we spent more than 60 inpatient days in hospital over the course of six months – and plenty of others attending clinic appointments and day case procedures, often in upsetting circumstances.
‘We were used to watching our daughter suffer at that stage in her treatment and we couldn’t have been more grateful for Ms Gallagher’s experience and kindness. She is exceptionally modest and whenever we express our gratitude to her, she replies that she feels privileged to do her job. We will never be able to thank her enough for her professionalism and dedication during such a difficult time in our lives.’
Ms Davies knows of other families who have received the same level of care from Ms Gallagher. She adds: ‘She is a truly exceptional nurse and person and she deserves every recognition. She is a credit to the profession.’
B. Jodie Heath
Staff Nurse, North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust
The mother of a young man with complex needs has nominated the ‘simply amazing’ community psychiatric nurse Jodie Heath for her ‘compassion and the way she listens and puts my son at the heart of everything she does’.
Michelle Craggs’ 18-year-old-son has a number of diagnoses along with autism but his care has been transformed since Ms Heath, who specialises in psychosis, began coordinating his care.
Ms Craggs says: ‘Being a parent/carer dealing with multiple care providers, it can be draining and scary and you learn not to trust a system that is so fragmented between health and social care.
‘But Ms Heath has adapted so many things for my son. Listening and understanding is key and for the first time following four separate mental health inpatient admissions, my son felt listened to when he talked to her. He sat on his bed and cried and said: “Mum, they believe me”.’
The family appreciate how Ms Heath continued that support during the pandemic and during a recent inpatient stay: ‘She spent many hours talking to him in online meetings and as soon as they could meet up in person she was there for their walks.
‘All the appointments are meaningful and purposeful,’ adds Ms Craggs. ‘She shows compassion all the time – even when a parent like me with my diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bounces in. I was worried that the service would struggle with us and find us difficult to manage. Ms Heath doesn’t because she understands our needs and the stresses of living our life.
Despite the complexity of her son’s care and not having worked with people with autism before, Ms Craggs says nothing has fazed Ms Heath or deterred her from providing excellent support for her son’s complex education and health plans.
‘I trust her and this makes the times when I am drained and I am wondering how I will get through the next day so much easier,’ says Ms Craggs.
‘She understands the importance of working together and what it means to be a young person in crisis. She will not allow herself to get caught up in the grinding wheels of the system or the red tape that says “We can’t” and she reframes any challenge by asking “How can we make this happen?”
‘For years, many professionals redefined the diagnostic criteria to make my son fit in the box. He wasn’t listened to by many doctors. Ms Heath always has the enthusiasm to adapt and work flexibly to make the early intervention systems and processes work specifically for my son.
‘At last I know he is safe and, most importantly, he also feels safe. My son values the support he has from her and as a parent I know this support helps him so much.’
Her son adds: ‘Ms Heath has helped me so much with being able to talk about my voices in a way I haven’t been allowed before. When I was in hospital she always came to visit me. She talked to me and helped me understand why I was worried about going to see my new college which helped me and made it easier for me to go there. When my voices are really bad and I want to end my life, she talks to me until I feel better. Things are hard. I find every day a struggle, but Ms Heath will listen to me and help me every day if I ask.’
C. Katie McIlroy
Team Manager for Intensive Outreach, Essex Partnership University Foundation Trust
A woman with complex mental and physical health needs has nominated her community nurse for being the first person in the psychiatric system to see her as a person and look beyond the labels she has been given.
‘Before Katie McIlroy took over my care two years ago, I was having a hard time in the mental health system with multiple care coordinators and admissions for my mental health,’ says Daisy Smith.
‘I also have complex serious physical health issues that are life-threatening. Most mental health professionals see my case history and run, which makes Katie extra special.’
Due to COVID-19, her physical health deteriorated significantly, but determined, Ms McIlroy provided support for this, as well as for Ms Smith’s mental health.
‘This was something she didn’t have to do and she often stays much later than her hours to sort things out,’ says Ms Smith. ‘Katie talks to me and makes me feel heard. She communicates in way that is helpful to me.
‘She has done more for me than anyone ever has and fights for me. She has sat with me, comforted me and talked me out of suicide. She has held my hand when I was scared and hearing voices. She has worked with me. In the darkest of times, she has given me some light and makes me feel like a human being.
‘She has shown me she cares consistently with kindness above and beyond her role. She helped wash my hair after a stroke, made me food when I stopped eating. She lifts my heavy wheelchair in and out of cars because she knows I hate being pushed in the manual chair.’
‘Ms McIlroy has spent much time and effort trying to sort out my physical healthcare with 14 different departments. Once she stayed seven hours after her shift to ensure we got a test result that needed actioning before a bank holiday. This wasn’t her role and no one else would help. Without Katie’s actions I would have become more unwell.’
Ms McIlroy has helped with tidying, cooking and cleaning because she knows that having a care agency would cause Ms Smith more distress and be detrimental.
‘She brought me a hamburger meal when I was shielding, been unwell physically and in a bad place because I had mentioned I desired one. This was a small thing that gave me something to hold onto.’
Ms Smith is also grateful for Ms McIlroy’s mental health expertise.
‘She has spent time working with me when I’ve been in crisis, talking me out of suicide and using her skills to de-escalate a situation instead of calling the police or admitting me to hospital, which caused me trauma previously,’ explains Ms Smith. ‘She puts my needs first and does what is right by me, not always what is easiest.
‘Katie deserves this award because working with me is tough – there haven’t been many positives. The past year has been unbearable, but Katie has made such a difference during this time. She has held on to hope when I lost mine and I am so grateful for her.’
D. Muzit Ghebreab and Rosily Padayathil
Ward sisters, Barts Health NHS Trust
A team of nurses that ‘did everything they could to ease the pain’ for two sisters when their mother was at the end of life has been nominated for the Patient’s Choice award.
Waffa Girshab says ward managers Rosily Padayathil and Muzit Ghebreab’s care of her mother at Whipps Cross Hospital, London, was outstanding, even though she was admitted to the Curie Ward with an advanced illness they were not used to treating.
‘They built a relationship of complete trust with us,’ says Ms Girshab.
Her mother was admitted to the ward in April after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
‘We were devasted when the doctors informed the family she was dying, but every member of the team provided such compassionate care.
‘Mum was severely agitated and delirious and either my sister or I was allowed to stay with her. Each and every staff member treated us with such love, from the housekeeper who would get custard from the canteen because it was the only thing my mother would eat, to the courteous cleaner whose conversations distracted me from the situation, along with each and every nurse, nursing associate and nursing student we met.
‘Ms Ghebreab and Ms Padayathil were fantastic leaders who created that culture and I could see they supported their staff when they were unsure with some of Mum’s care.’
Ms Girshab points out that their mother’s disease was not within the ward’s specialty and she had been admitted because there was no other bed available at the hospital.
‘They went above and beyond their role,’ she adds, ‘They stopped to listen and tried to calm Mum down and talk to her gently even when she was hysterical.
‘They always checked on me, offering me breaks when Mum was asleep as she became very agitated when she was awake and didn’t have someone she recognised nearby.’
The nurses sat and spoke to Ms Girshab about her mum, asking her to share happy memories.
‘My sister liked to give Mum a bed bath when she took over in the evening. No one complained about it being the wrong time. They just helped with a smile on their face. Nothing was a bother.’
Ramadan started and the nurses helped the family clean their mother and tidy her room.
‘The night nurse would give me a tea before I began fasting in the morning and they would sit with Mum so I was able to break my fast with my family.’
The family eventually moved to the palliative care ward where their mum died a few days later.
‘Ms Ghebreab would come and say hello every day to reassure us it was the right decision because we were really worried about leaving the ward,’ says Ms Girshab, who is a senior research nurse.
‘I don’t know how we would have managed without them and, although it was a heart-breaking time, feel blessed to have had such wonderful, caring nurses there with us at the worst time of our lives.
‘Even though it was not something they were used to, you could tell that they wanted to do their absolute best for us when we were in a terrible situation.’
E. Orna Carey
Junior Sister, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
A 17-year-old has nominated a nurse whose care and kindness helped her turn her life around after suffering life-changing injuries while she was at a mental health inpatient unit.
Ellis Kottas, who lives in Sevenoaks in Kent, says she was in a ‘very bad state’ when she was subsequently admitted to the Lister adult surgical ward at King’s College Hospital in London.
‘After sustaining a spinal cord injuryas a mental health inpatient at a different hospital, I was an inpatient for my physical injuries at Kings for a whole year battling with pain and having surgeries. I was bed-bound for months. The year I spent in hospital was not easy. I struggled greatly both mentally and physically. I felt so alone, as only one parent was allowed to visit for very short periods due to COVID-19.
‘But Orna Carey’s dedication and kindness has been so important. It was the boost I needed to keep me going on my journey.’
Being 17, she was by far the youngest patient on the ward and while all the nurses took special care of her, junior sister Ms Carey always went above and beyond.
‘It started off just being chats but Ms Carey was always so busy that it was hard for her to find the time, so she would stay behind after her 12-hour shift to talk to me,’ says Ms Kottas. ‘Then she started bringing in sweets with a grin, or making time to plait my hair. I always looked forward to her next shift.’
When Ms Kottas was being discharged from the ward, she asked to be woken up so she could say goodbye to Ms Carey at the end of her shift but she ended up oversleeping. She was very upset. ‘I spent all day waiting for transport. It got to 5pm and suddenly Ms Carey burst into my room in her own clothes, hair down, and with a Percy Pig toy and sweets.
‘She had remembered I was leaving and called the ward to see if I was still there and rushed in. We had our last chat and said goodbye and I left with my little Percy Pig which I called Orna.’
Ms Kottas has kept the pig with her through all her inpatient stays for added support. ‘That Percy Pig was by my side through difficult meetings, physio sessions and two kidney infections.
‘Ms Carey never had to be that kind or go the extra mile for me, but she did – and it made all the difference. When I bumped into her four months later, I was so happy and excited even though the appointment I had was to discuss my next surgery, a day which wasn’t set to be particularly great.’
After a challenging experience in mental health services, Ms Carey also restored her trust in the NHS, which both Ms Carey and her parents believe has been central to her progress and recovery.
‘She was the first person I felt able to open up to and trust again,’ says Ms Kottas. ‘We could talk about my worries or about life outside the four walls of the ward. She made me feel wanted and that I deserved the help, which I had always found hard to believe.
‘I have autism, so leaving the ward was a difficult change for me. Ms Carey’s kindness on my last day made that transition much smoother. And the physical reminder of the toy meant so much to me. It made me able to recall her values which guided me through the rest of my recovery in rehab.
‘She wasn’t just an exceptional nurse to me but a great nurse and leader. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today.’
F. Paul Murray
Nurse practitioner, Northern Health and Social Care Trust
A record number of nominations have been received for nurse practitioner Paul Murray to receive a Patient’s Choice Award.
Mr Murray, who worked at Causeway Hospital, Coleraine, sadly died after a cardiac arrest in February after nursing for 25 years. The testimonies from people he supported show the huge impact he had on the people he cared for as well as the wider community.
The nominations included accounts of numerous occasions where he went above and beyond to get people with terminal cancer discharged from hospital to spend time with their family. In one case, he was able to get a helicopter to take a man at the end of life to Scotland so he could die at home with his family. He offered support, care and follow-up to people even when it was not in his remit, providing updates to families and friends and visiting patients on his way home from work.
Vera Bell writes: ‘My daughter Linda was diagnosed with terminal cancer in her stomach in her early 40s and Mr Murray made her feel less frightened. It wasn’t his responsibility, but he went out of his way to save her from journeys to Belfast when her GP was unable to provide the COVID-19 tests she needed. He then kept in contact with a friend to check how she was getting on.
‘In the later stages of her illness when Linda was in hospital, he let her friends come in and see her after hours as he knew how precious time was with her family during visiting time. And one time when two doctors could not get access to her veins and Mr Murray had gone home, he came back in so she could get the intravenous antibiotics she needed.’
William Millar recalls how when he was not in a good place and ended up in hospital for two weeks, Mr Murray paid for and brought him The Guardian every day.
‘He did everything on his wards,’ says Mr Millar. ‘He was the glue that brought everyone together. He had the phone in one hand talking to another hospital to sort out a bed for a patient and with the other hand he was taking off bed sheets in preparation for a new patient. A regular thing I heard was “Better ask Paul Murray – he’ll know what to do”.’
Scans and tests eventually led to Mr Millar’s early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, which his son Jonathan had died of four months before.
He recalls: ‘Mr Murray was always so reassuring with his calm approach. When I was diagnosed, he would run through the next steps so I would know what to expect.
‘When I left hospital, he came to my home to do my COVID test before I could start my chemotherapy so that I didn’t have to travel to Belfast as I don’t have my own vehicle.
‘One week before he died he even drove me for my treatment so I didn’t have to use the train – it was a round trip of more than 120 miles.’
Mr Mayer recalls how passionate Mr Murray was about the NHS. ‘He knew what was needed to help a patient,’ he adds. ‘He could get things done and made patients like me feel special. He didn’t think that anything was impossible. He really was an outstanding person.’