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'It's vital to get more nurses into rheumatology'

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Patricia Cornell is equipping nurses with auditing and communication skills to boost services in rheumatology.

Working in a specialty can be rewarding, but also isolating. Often as you drill down deeper, you tend to have less contact with other generalists or nurses from other specialties. This can affect your ability to learn from other people’s experience to improve your own practice.

That was the view of Patricia Cornell, a nurse with specialist knowledge of inflammatory arthritis. As part of the steering group for the RApport educational platform, which is designed to help the NHS enhance patient care in the field of rheumatoid arthritis, she knows that sharing best practice is the ideal way to equip nurses with non-clinical skills such as communication and auditing. “It’s the best way to push their careers to the next level,” she says.

For three years she has been working with the other seven committee members to put together educational programmes for rheumatology specialty services as well as yearly workshops for nurses.

From her 25 years of nursing experience at the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal Navy and Poole Hospital Foundation Trust, Ms Cornell has an extensive background in rheumatology. She is also on several clinical committees as well as RApport, including EULAR (European League Against Rheumatism), which represents patients, health professionals and scientific societies of rheumatology of all European nations.

After RApport’s Every Audit Counts workshop last year, the organisation asked the 30 attendees to evaluate it, and 96% felt confident in their ability to conduct or assist with an audit after paricipating in the workshop.

For nurses, having the ability to perform a systematic review of care against explicit criteria is a necessary skill.

“It can be really helpful to nurses to be able to point out areas that need to be improved and how to move forward in the future,” says Ms Cornell.

“This is especially important in rheumatology with new research coming out all the time.”

She believes auditing can also identify where there are a shortage of specialists, which she thinks is a problem in her area as it is in many others.

“Getting more nurses into rheumatology is really important. It’s important for patients; we know that from what they have said. Specialist nurses are needed all over the UK so patients can cope with their long-term conditions better,” she says.

But finding specialists isn’t her only concern. She believes many nurses have a difficult time communicating in the workplace, hence the workshop on communication skills and using neurolinguistic programming to better understand patients’ needs,and using verbal and non-verbal cues effectively.

“Proper communication is an important concept because it has everything to do with your work. It can be really efficient, but it takes practice to be able to connect it with your work and clinical practice,” she says.

This featured in this year’s annual meeting, Succeeding in the NHS, which took place earlier this month.

Ms Cornell says the group isn’t just about improving care, it’s about developing nurses and the profession. “We are giving them the tools to move forward in their job. It’s about knowing what they are getting right in their clinical practice and making them aware of what they can then improve on.”

  • For details onthe RApport programme, go to or email
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