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Interview: Nurse describes ‘most challenging experience in her nursing career to date’

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A bereavement nurse who supported families in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing was among those chosen to accept a Women of the Year Award on behalf of all women serving in health, ambulance and police services across the UK.

Laura Prescott, bereavement liaison nurse at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, was one of a team of eight people representing Manchester emergency and medical services at the Barclays Women of the Year Awards.

“It was an absolute honour to go and represent the trust and bereavement nurses”

Laura Prescott

She told Nursing Times she was “overwhelmed” to have been nominated by her trust and chosen to attend the awards ceremony on Monday, which recognised the bravery, heroism and achievements of extraordinary women.

“I was speechless to even be nominated,” she said. “It was an absolute honour to go and represent the trust and bereavement nurses, and to receive the award. It was just an amazing day to be involved in – to hear everybody’s stories and what they had experienced.” 

Ms Prescott, who has worked as a nurse for 11 years, was selected to accept the award because of the vital role she played in helping families in the wake of the attack at Manchester Arena on the evening of 22 May this year.

Having joined Bolton in August 2016, she had been in the bereavement role for less than a year when she faced what she described as most challenging experience in her nursing career to date.

“When I first heard about the bomb it was on the radio coming into work as usual on the Tuesday morning,” she said. “You think the worst but I didn’t expect to be coming into the hospital and find casualties here, as I automatically presumed Manchester would take the casualties.

“I was met by my boss and we went to the ward where the injured were to help the staff on shift and support some of the patients,” she told Nursing Times.

“You can do the training, but I don’t think anybody is ever prepared”

Laura Prescott

Many patients were frantic with worry, having been separated from family and friends with no idea what had happened to them. “Were they in hospital? Were they in a hotel? They just generally did not know where anyone else was,” said Ms Prescott.

She added: “We were just trying to gather as much information as we could to offer some reassurance as well as making sure staff that were on duty were okay, getting their breaks and anything else they needed.

“The whole thing was just surreal because it was so close to home and you don’t think a thing like that could happen,” she said.

She noted: “You can do the training, but I don’t think anybody is ever prepared. However, the adrenaline kicks in and you deal with what is presented to you.”

She told Nursing Times that nurses and other hospital staff on duty on the night and in following days all pulled together.

“It put everybody to the test, testing their limits but everybody from every background came together and we all worked as one team,” she said. “It was a whirlwind, but people just did what they needed to do and did an amazing job.”

“Basically we were just trying to look after them and provide them with a safe environment”

Laura Prescott

Ms Prescott was one of team of bereavement nurses from different hospital trusts who went on to support families who had lost relatives and those anxiously awaiting news, who were staying at a hotel in Oldham.

“We worked very closely with other disciplines – the police, family liaison officers and the Red Cross just to be there for the family members,” she said.

“Some of them – because they were away from home – might have needed medication and so it was about getting doctors to see them if needed and provide them with prescriptions and medication,” she said.

She added: “Basically we were just trying to look after them and provide them with a safe environment and – if they wanted – someone to talk to.”

She and her colleagues were based at the hotel for two weeks, working tirelessly to ensure families had everything they needed.

“I have worked 12 hours days previously but haven’t done those for a while so was doing that plus extra hours,” said Ms Prescott.

Bolton NHS Foundation Trust

Bolton bereavement nurse named among ‘women of the year’

Laura Prescott with her award

“I have a family at home as well so it was difficult but we tried to work on rota basis so there was always somebody based at the hotel and someone was on call 24/7 just in case a family needed somebody,” she said.

One challenge was explaining the situation to her own two girls aged nine and seven, she noted. “My eldest worried whenever I went to work, because she didn’t fully understand where I was going, just that I had to look after the people who couldn’t find their relatives,” she said.

“Both my daughters couldn’t fully understand what had happened and repeatedly asked me over and over ‘Why would someone do that?’, and I struggled to answer the question to make them understand and without making it sound too horrific for them,” she said.

“As within my job, I was always open and honest and explained we were not to be frightened to do things or go places,” she told Nursing Times.

While it was challenging, she said support from senior colleagues including her manager – Bolton’s palliative care and end of life care clinical lead Suzanne Lomax – was key.

“We get mandatory training for things like major incidents but then to re-enact it in real life is completely different. It was because we had the support of our senior staff that we were able to do what we needed to do,” she said.

In her day-to-day role at Royal Bolton Hospital, she supports dying patients and their families and helps those who have been bereaved through the grieving process.

“That can involve seeing them on a one-to-one basis here at the hospital or if the loved one has died at the hospital and they don’t feel they can come back – it may be too soon – then I will go and see them to support them in their own home,” she noted.

Her role also includes running a monthly bereavement support cafe at a local supermarket. “Sometimes family members don’t want to come up to the hospital so I set up a bereavement cafe which is based at local supermarket. It’s local and on the bus route and people are more likely to attend,” she said.

“It is different each month – there is no set number and it is a drop-in. People in a similar situation can just come together, have a tea, coffee, biscuits and a chat if they want to. They can say as much or as little as they like,” she said.

Bolton NHS Foundation Trust

Bolton bereavement nurse named among ‘women of the year’

Laura Prescott in uniform

Ms Prescot said her previous job as a junior sister on the acute stroke unit at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust inspired her to move into bereavement care.

“Unfortunately, we did have a lot of patients that died and it was just being able to be there with the family and offer them support and going through that journey with the families,” she said.

“It was just a passion that grew and something I wanted to do and pursue and that’s why I came into this role,” she said. “End of life is really, really important and we need to get it right as we only get that one chance.”

Several months on from the Manchester attack and bereavement teams are still in touch with family liaison officers and the families involved.

“The family liaison officers may just want some advice and are still in contact with us, and we liaise with them just to see how the families are doing and if there is anything else we can do to help them,” said Ms Prescott.

“A lot of them were from quite a distance away, so are being supported by services in their own areas, but they have got our numbers and know that if they need us they can contact us,” she said.

Soon afterwards, she said bereavement nurses and managers came together to discuss lesson learned.

“We have sat together as a team of bereavement nurses and looked at what we would do differently if something like this happened again,” she said. “You can always improve on something.”

She said one positive was that the experience had helped forge stronger links and communication between bereavement nurses across Greater Manchester and she hoped this would lead to further joint work.

“We are in constant contact with each other – we can only improve on what we have already done by having that communication and those links,” she added.

Bolton NHS Foundation Trust

Bolton bereavement nurse named among ‘women of the year’

Women of the Year Award winners 2017 on behalf of the Manchester emergency and medical services (left-right): Debbie Ford, Lauren Moore, Andrea Bonafe (Barclays), Cath Daley, Sandi Toksvig (host and president, Women of the Year), Lea Vaughan, HRH Duchess of Cornwall, Shoba Manesh, Jane Luca (chair, Women of the Year), Laura Prescott, Victoria Wijeratne and Naomi Davis

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