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Where there’s a will...

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Determination and resilience are key to Karen Ainsworth realising her ideas to improve care for a range of patients

Karen Ainsworth

During an audit, sister Karen Ainsworth observed the uncomfortable conditions older patients underwent in the cardiac catheter lab at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough. She became determined to make a change to these standards.

“I kept seeing patients who were coming into the lab with dementia and it was really alienating for them. I thought there must be something I can do to help,” she says.

She started with making simple adjustments such as changing the patterned curtains that induced hallucinations to simple blue ones with fewer graphics. She also realised that having an item they could hold onto during pacemaker operations would help patients feel calmer. But, while she developed an idea to make bed handles more patient friendly, she was met with many obstacles.

“The bed handles couldn’t get in the way of the X-ray,” she explains, “And people are all different so different angles are needed to suit each individual.”

Implementing the idea was initially difficult simply because she didn’t know where to start. A few members of staff advised her to speak with people in other departments.

“I don’t think people know the resources that are out there,” she explains, hoping to push innovators to think outside the box. “A lot of the things I’ve been involved with have just started with an email, so I encourage people to do that.”

Ms Ainsworth recalls her first attempt at turning her ideas into an real product. The first meeting she had with one of the hospital’s departments wasn’t as promising as she expected, but she didn’t let that prevent her from trying again.

“If you have an idea or something you want to do, you might not get the response you want straight away, so I just have to say ‘don’t give up’,” she says.

Ms Ainsworth’s resilience has also stood her in good stead in other areas - it is that attitude she believes helped to get her through her nursing course at the age of 29. And the benefits came back to her - she says training taught her how to deal with things from a “practical point of view, but not through an emotional lens”.

‘If you have an idea or something you want to do, you might not get the response you want straight away, so I just have to say ‘don’t give up’

Managing her feelings was a lesson she had to teach herself, especially when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer the day before Ms Ainsworth started in a new post. But the difficult times were all worth it.

On graduation day, she recalls the indescribable experience of walking into the room: “I didn’t realise how much it meant to me until I was sitting there. It was a major achievement for me.”

After settling into her nursing role at JCUH she decided to pursue another interest. In 2014, she participated in a distance-learning Masters course for a year at the University of Manchester to learn how to conduct research, which she focused on dementia.

“It was a difficult course, but satisfying,” she says. The knowledge she gained was useful when, a year down the line, she needed to consider the best and safest way to make the bed handles.

She worked with the medical physics department and together they developed four pairs of handles that are used in each of the cardiac catheter labs. The second prototype won the NHS Innovations Bright Ideas in Health Awards and she won £1,000. The money will be used to help register the product, further develop it, and manufacture it so it can be incorporated into other departments and hospitals.

“We do not just use them with patients with dementia but also with patients with anxiety,” she says. “The more patients it can help in as many different areas of a hospital, the better.”

In June, Ms Ainsworth joined the Dementia Care Team at JCUH to help educate and advise the staff on how to further improve healthcare for patients with dementia.

Developments will continue to be made to the bed handles based on patient and staff feedback.

“Don’t give up at the first hurdle,” she says. “As my mum used to say: ‘there is no such thing as can’t’.”

Taylor Lopez

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