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'I didn't just survive, I thrived - thanks to the NHS team around me'

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  • Patient stories can educate us about what matters to those receiving care
  • Nurses must have time to listen to patients and work out how to motivate and inspire them
  • There is no substitute for personalising care
  • The NHS and healthcare providers are full of skilled and talented people able to help patients and service users recover

I’ve sat in many a conference when a patient has been on the programme to remind all the nurses and healthcare professionals of why they do what they do.

Sometimes they provide a sobering tale of poor care. Sometimes they offer up a life-affirming account of excellent care. More often than not their story is a combination of both.

Last week at the as-ever brilliant Florence Nightingale Foundation annual conference, the assembled nurses heard from Catrin Pugh, who at 19 years old suffered severe and life-threatening burns when she was in a coach crash in the French Alps.

“Her story was not one that evoked pity or sympathy, but admiration and respect”

This amazing young woman, now in her early twenties, told the story of how she had caught fire and was the only person, other than the driver who died, to suffer serious injuries in that crash.

Her story was not one that evoked pity or sympathy, but admiration and respect.

And she too gave that respect and awe at the people who had cared for her. She admitted that she would not have made it through the harrowing ordeal without the support of her family, or the NHS as she was flown back to this country to receive the majority of her treatment and start her rehabilitation.

“She was not just a survivor, but a thriver”

At the end of her speech, which I will admit inspired some tears from the audience including me, she said that she was not just a survivor, but a thriver, and that was down to the skill of the NHS team around her who had helped her through this enormous challenge.

Given just a one in 1,000 chance of survival, Catrin was able to go ski-ing last year, three years after the accident. And she now gives inspiring talks all over the country to school children and health professionals.

Her story reinforced two things for me – against a backdrop of constant reportage of the pressures the NHS is under, incredible people are still in that service doing incredible things. And people like them – and you – are changing people’s lives. You must never forget that.

“Catrin and patients all over the healthcare system are not just a pastiche of their wounds and conditions”

It also reminded me that Catrin and patients all over the healthcare system are not just a pastiche of their wounds and conditions, they are people, with things they care about.

Catrin says that when she awoke from her three-month induced coma back in the Whiston Hospital in Merseyside specialist burns unit, she was concerned about going to the toilet and that she had lost her hair. She joked that despite the fact that 96% of her body was burned, those were the things she cried about.

Nurses are phenomenal at having those conversations and working out what matters to people, but they must have time to do it well.

“Let’s not forget what matters to those using the service”

I hope that we never lose sight of the fact that the nurse’s role is to have time to care, and that nursing does not just become a series of tasks to be performed. Those in charge of the health service must recognise that patients and service users and residents need to be treated like people by people, and that nursing is the profession that can do that better than any other.

At a time when we are debating the role of the nurse and the nursing associate and other ways to support care provision, let’s not forget what matters to those using the service. Usually it is having someone who has the time to work out what matters to them.

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