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'Care home nursing offers the ability to build relationships with those we care for'

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After initially retiring from nursing, Maureen was surprised to find that working in a care home reenergised her passion for the profession

maureen atkinson

maureen atkinson

Maureen Atkinson

I never thought I’d work in a care home.

I’d retired from the NHS, done my time, enjoyed my career and was ready for indulge in a life without interruption. That didn’t last long.

Working in a care home has taught me so much and the experience has reenergised me. Coming to work is a pleasure: the perceived “dead end” of a nursing career has proven to be one of the most fulfilling and fun. The notion that care home nurses know little, do little and are little is very much a red herring.

Since working on the “dark side” I have never worked so hard, so fast and so autonomously.

When I’m on shift, I have responsibility for the 41 residents, with just one other registered nurse in another part of the building and at times alone. I have so much responsibility on my shoulders that I know would make many of my NHS colleagues stop in their tracks.

It is tiresome being “battered” with negativity. I have been given an opportunity as part of the Teaching Care Home pilot to participate in a programme of development which has, even after all these years of nursing, given me space to really think about what we do in care home nursing. I have been surprised about what I have learned.

The greatest opportunity care home nursing has to offer is the ability to build a relationship over time and to develop observation skills by noticing the way in which people communicate, and how that can signal changes in their condition. As a nurse working in this environment I am privileged to be involved in their care throughout their stay at Chester Court.

For those who have limited communication skills in expressing any physical changes, observation is an even more valuable skill of an RN to recognise when someone is starting to change. This is where we come into our own. It is with acute observation and swift intervention that care home nurses stand shoulder to shoulder with NHS colleagues in helping manage an over-stretched and busy NHS.

We have built a strong relationship with our local GP practice and that trust has brought us together to work in the best interests of residents, including setting up anticipatory prescribing for some residents we know well.

One of these is a gentleman who has recurrent chest infections, he has limited communication skills but over time we have monitored his behaviour changes. As he starts to grind his teeth we know there is a possibility of an infection brewing. Not quite as obvious as taking a temperature but we know that this is his way of showing his discomfort or distress.

Our swift action by administering his rescue medication, means we can prevent an unnecessary admission to hospital, prevent distress to him and keep him where he wants to be: at “home” in his own surroundings and with familiar people.

Don’t judge anyone until you’ve walked in their shoes. We have skills and talents to share and knowledge about those we care for over a long period of time.

We are aware of the importance of opening our doors and sharing our practice by asking our colleagues to come and see what we do, and we have built a respectful dialogue with our local nursing teams across the boundaries of health and social care. 

It’s not all doom and gloom, a dead end career cul-de-sac. It’s so much more than that.

I know as I have both sat in judgement in a career spanning decades in the NHS. I now strive to make a difference as part of the widest community of care. We need people to come and see the good work and I would encourage anyone to go and look into the “dark side”.

What’s best day to visit our care home? Tuesday, I get up at 5am and make scones for the team, and anyone else who visits. By doing this, I have become a legend in my own lifetime! After all, you have to have a range of talents to work here.

Maureen Atkinson, Registered Nurse, Chester Court Care Home

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Readers' comments (2)

  • This is so true people look down on nurses working in the care home sector. Paramedics come and think nurses are thick or stupid cause they are working there. Actually nurses in the care home are amazing and have lots off knowledge and skills.

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  • Well said. Nursing and residential care home nursing is brilliant! It's what we trained for and here I am an autonomous practitioner. I get the privilege of working in partnership with families, residents and carers on a long term basis. I wouldn't do anything else

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