Monday, 11 June 2018

A Few Words About Luck - Kate Woodhead

Kate Woodhead - Christie patient

Do you consider yourself lucky?

I do - even though I have had a blood cancer for the last 20 years.

So why am I lucky?

Because - I came to The Christie in 1998, aged 58, for a second opinion and was given my future back. Further investigations gave me a median survival rate of eight to 10 years (I’ve doubled that forecast) instead of the 18 months - 3 years prognosis I was given previously.  I had been diagnosed initially at Leighton Hospital with Mantle Cell Lymphoma and a bone marrow biopsy showed my bone marrow was ‘grossly infiltrated with malignant cells’ according to the haematologist. Within three weeks I started on a monthly chemo regime of CHOP.  What a good name for it - as I lost my hair, my strength and my resolve. Another bone marrow biopsy, three months later showed the response was minimal and a transplant was suggested. I requested/insisted on a second opinion and saw Professor Radford who did another biopsy and phoned me with the new diagnosis of Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma - which was so kind of him and I so appreciated it. I felt I had a life again.

Because - I have been treated with expertise, care and consideration throughout all those years of coming to The Christie. We came so often, I think every car we drove seemed to be able to get there with minimum steerage. We lost count one year after we had been 30 times.

Because - although I had had five sessions of chemotherapy over the years, I am still here and able to take part in a clinical trial of a new combination of drugs which is proving to be very successful. I’m hoping this sixth chemotherapy regime will be the last. Dr Mamat is fantastic but I don’t want to have to see him so often - if this treatment will give me five years remission I will be 83 and that will do for me.

Because - I trained as a State Registered Nurse (SRN) many years ago, and as I did phlebotomy in one of my jobs after marriage - it meant I never had a needle phobia, though my veins are not brilliant. Tracey, who takes blood in department 26, is the best I have ever had sticking needles into my arms - in and out like a dream. I am not the only patient who is always grateful to see her on duty.

Because - my husband John has been with me for every appointment and is always supportive. We treat ourselves to lunch and a glass of wine, whether the counts are good or not so good - but occasionally go to the staff canteen and enjoy the atmosphere there - a pity it isn’t licensed!

Because - my two consultants, first Professor Radford and then Dr Bloor have given me such excellent treatment over the years with such friendly caring staff in both departments.  I thank my lucky stars every time I come to the hospital - I am so privileged to be treated here.

After my diagnosis, I found myself looking at people walking by me and thinking ‘how lucky they are - they don’t have cancer’. You feel so different from everyone. You feel stigmatised by the diagnosis and, of course, the word brings fears and worries. I then realised that I had joined a rather special club, one with an exorbitant joining fee, but nevertheless full of really good and interesting people.

I was a founder member and moderator for an email support group and was also asked to be a buddy by the Lymphoma Society; eventually I became pretty much a veteran. I know that for ’newbies’ who had just been diagnosed that it is encouraging to be in touch with those of us who have survived various chemotherapy regimes and are still enjoying life.

This was the best piece of luck - how much you appreciate life after you have come to terms with perhaps not making three score years and ten. Life is all the sweeter because you feared you were coming to the end of it - before you really expected the end. Though when do we ever expect it?

I am lucky because I received so much love from family members and friends that I feel my life has been worthwhile. I have always considered that love is the important element in life and I know that love will continue even after I have died - it doesn’t die with the person.  Every life you touch with love gains a little from you and you gain so much in return.

But will people in the future be as lucky as I have been?

I really do hope so. It really distresses me to read of more and more pressures on the NHS.  Why can’t governments recognise the need for UK residents, of every race and colour, to have a constant and good health service? Do they not realise the incredible benefit we all gain from it? Don’t they realise what a marvellous resource we have in our doctors, nurses, radiographers, physiotherapists etc etc and every other member of staff who are part of this wonderful NHS of ours. We must all fight to preserve it, it truly is worth fighting for. So rally to the cause - long live the NHS.

Friday, 1 June 2018

A Biscuit Invasion - Clare Barnes

Clare Barnes - Trainee Nursing Associate


When the Trainee Nursing Associate (TNA) role was first introduced there was a huge buzz about a new addition to the nursing family. In the initial months we were reminded we were a pilot but also called trail blazers, paving the way for future cohorts. I’m a little fire phobic so like to stick with my comparison to the hobnob biscuit - in part due to the uniform colour.

I should begin by explaining what a TNA is. The Nursing Associate will work under the direction of a fully qualified Registered Nurse (RN). The Nursing Associate is not a Registered Nurse but will undertake some of the duties that a RN currently undertakes, enabling the Registered Nurse to spend more time on the assessment and care associated with both complex needs and advances in treatments. We will be regulated by the NMC and our standards are currently being finalized. We come with a variety of clinical skills and experience however all have the same fundamental training and as such these skills are transferrable to any area within the hospital. We’re flexible biscuits, soaked in knowledge and ready to be dunked in any area that needs us.

Being a biscuit is a lot less crumbly that you would think. I’ve previously compared our role to Hobnobs taking the outlook of Peter Kay who refers to them as the hard-core dunking biscuits - persistent and refuse to crumble under pressure. That likeness has proved more than appropriate over the last 15 months as we met every update to our course with a smile and a resilience that refuses to be broken.

My introduction to The Christie came at a personal level when I lost my mother to ovarian cancer however the care we received as a family at that time was second to none. Our hospital has created a unique environment where despite the somewhat scary circumstances, patients can feel at ease. The people who work at The Christie are wonderful, caring souls and I am genuinely proud to be part of something special.

When I was younger (a LONG time ago) I had wanted to be a nurse. My mum had also worked in a hospital and I can still remember the nurses letting me wear one of their hats when we picked her up at the end of a shift. Life happened, and I got lost in a career in the banking industry eventually working from home. After my introduction to The Christie I was drawn to the possibility of working there.  I joined The Christie in 2015 as a clerical officer working as a small cog in a big machine that continues to turn, providing exceptional care to our patients when they need it the most. I began on the Endocrine department and found the role rewarding working within a friendly team however I quickly came to realize that I had a desire to play a more hands on role in patient care. When a Health Care Assistant (HCA) role was advertised in the same department with the same shift pattern I jumped at the opportunity to support the nursing team on the unit.

It didn’t take me long to complete my skill set for the role and I began looking for opportunities to progress and become more involved in-patient care. Ultimately, I knew one day I wanted to become a nurse, I just wasn’t sure how I was going to make that happen - Bills have a habit of still needing to be paid and as much as my son likes to think he is self-sufficient - he’s not quite there yet!

Staring at the computer screen and taking in all the information I did the math’s in my head, “what if?” “how can I?” were all questions floating about. One of the nurses had pulled me to one side to show me the advertisement for a brand-new role starting in January - A pilot scheme but something she assured me I would be great at. As for all my questions the reply came in the form of another question “What if one opportunity could change your life?” So, I filled out the application, made myself sound more awesome than sauce in less than 200 words (It’s possible!), secured my interview and pinched myself when I got the call to tell me I had been successful.

There were 1700 applicants to the pilot scheme in Greater Manchester, 240 were successfully appointed to post. 8 of those are based at the Christie. The original pilot wave saw 2000 Trainee Nursing Associates recruited across England. A further 5000 are planned to be recruited this year and we have an additional 6 biscuits starting their apprenticeship at the end of April taking the trust total to 14.

We’re now in our third placement block and time flies when you’re having fun. Our course combines a mix of clinical placements and academic study. We work 30 hours a week in clinical practice with one day a week at university. My allocated university is Manchester Metropolitan University.

My clinical experience has been amazing providing me a wealth of information, experience and has also helped me put together the jigsaw puzzle that forms the patient journey from initial referral to eventual discharge. Throughout our clinical placements we are allocated a mentor to ensure we meet out learning objectives for the placement and our overall experience is looked after by our clinical educator who is always on hand to support our progress. Our placements are divided into four blocks covering Specialist, Community, Surgical and Medical. Within each block, we rotate through various areas to provide an overall view of the services available within the hospital and community setting.

I initially began with my specialist placement in January 2017. We stayed in our original home to enable us to find our feet. In July 2017, I moved to the community placement working with The Christie at Home Team, Outreach and the Mobile Chemo Unit. January 2018 saw me move to my surgical placement based at the IPU with rotations in theatres and the surgical wards. All our placements provide the opportunity for us to spoke out and I have taken advantage of placements with CCU Outreach, Enhanced recovery and the Stoma Nurses to name a few.

I have found through experience that the nursing team around us are our greatest teachers. Every person across the multi-disciplinary team offers support and different perspectives on how we can make each contact count with our patients. The knowledge that we have gained from university is helping to change the way we view things turning a clinical task into one that is supported with the knowledge of why we are doing it and the confidence to explain this to our patients and their carers.

Looking to the future, I can see a biscuit army on the horizon. The NHS is faced with many challenges, an aging population, patients with complex needs and the recruitment of nurses into the workforce. The TNAs are not intended as a replacement for any role, we are a new role created as an addition to the nursing family. We aim to compliment the workforce, adding value to the nursing team, providing support nurses and to bridge the gap between the HCAs and RNs. The role provides a career pathway for HCAs should they wish like myself to progress to nursing. The biscuits are here to help, we want our skills and knowledge to be utilised and hope to be seen as a positive addition to strengthen an ever-changing workforce.