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Nursing Nomads

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Travelling up and down the country may be unusual for a nurse, but for the staff at Netcare it is all part of the job.

Travelling up and down the country may be unusual for a nurse, but for the staff at Netcare it is all part of the job.

For the staff at Netcare, the UK's mobile ophthalmology units which travel the country performing cataract surgery on NHS patients, work means one week on the road, staying in hotels from Cumbria to Canterbury, and one week at home.

The part-nomadic lifestyle seems to suit the teams who man the OC123 chain - two state-of-the-art pre-assessment and theatre units - and the sense of a close-knit bunch of colleagues who enjoy working and relaxing together is clearly evident.

Registered nurse Zena Saminaden had planned a quiet life when she took early retirement from the NHS last year and had sworn never to return to nursing. But within a few months she was surfing the net looking at what was around and came across Netcare's advert.

'In my previous job I worked Monday to Friday, 9am-4.30pm, and work was minutes away from home, so this was completely different,' she says. 'While my children were growing up it suited me, but now, although they both still live at home, they're adults and they have their own lives.'

Intrigued and excited by the prospect of travelling around the country to places she had never visited, and having every other week at home, Zena successfully applied. Since last October she has worked on the ophthalmology mobile theatre unit, nursing day-patients attending for cataract removal.

'I'm really enjoying it,' she says. 'When we are on the rota we stay in hotels. Our accommodation, evening meal and travel expenses are paid for. We all get on really well and eat together in the evening, and often go out socialising too.

'I love seeing the different places we visit. We travel by the Lake District and I particularly enjoy coming to Canterbury because it is so beautiful. We have trips out - some of the girls went cycling in Morecombe during the summer.'

Then there's going home to Watford to look forward to. 'We're a close-knit family so we always like to see each other. My son and daughter say it's like I've been on holiday for a week.'

Theatre unit receptionist Sandra Ward also has grown-up children who no longer need her close at hand at all times but, unlike Zena, has previous experience of travelling for work.

'I worked for Britannia Airlines and looked after three airports - Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds/Bradford,' she explains. 'That meant a lot of travel, but I didn't get a week off every fortnight!

'I love working one week on one week off. You know exactly where you are so you can make plans, and it's like having a holiday. When I'm at home I catch up on all the chores but I also have the time to meet friends for lunch and just enjoy myself.'

But she does admit that hotel living can have its downsides. 'It depends on the hotel. Some are really comfortable but occasionally you find one where the beds aren't so good and you don't get a good night's sleep. It's only ever for a few nights though so it's not really a problem.?

For two members of staff, though, going home is a rarity. Theatre unit manager Janet Hosmer works full-time on the unit. Fortunately, her husband Dave works with her as the unit's driver. 'It can be quite a crazy life and one hotel room is much like another, but it makes all the difference being able to work together,' she explains.

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