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'Patient stories tell us just what great care is'


I’ve been to dozens of events where people talk about making care “patient centred”. But I am not sure that you really understand what that means until you hear a patient’s story.

I’ve been to dozens of events where people talk about making care “patient centred”. But I am not sure that you really understand what that means until you hear a patient’s story. Of course, health professionals - especially nurses - frequently listen to patients, which is why they are often the best advocates. But not everyone sees the patient rather than the condition.

Last week, at the Health Innovation Expo in Manchester, Tommy Whitelaw (@tommyNtour on Twitter) reduced a packed crowd in the conference’s Dementia Café to tears with his tales of how lonely and frightening it was to look after his mum Joan after she was diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Once, feeling at rock bottom, he cried all the way to the health centre on the bus with her, only to be turned away with a phone number to call to make an appointment. He cried all the way home.

Tommy spoke about the isolation and fear experienced by carers when looking after someone with dementia. He spoke movingly about not knowing how to lift, wash or dress his mum and being insecure about whether he was even doing the right thing for her by doing this himself.

A district nurse reassured him and showed him how to care for his mum. He said she was always a lady - and dementia shouldn’t take that way from her

It was a district nurse who reassured him. “She put her hand on my arm and told me I was doing a great job,” he said. “She showed me how to wash my mum like a lady and how to shampoo her hair so it smelt beautiful because my mum was a lady, and was always clean - and dementia shouldn’t take that away from her.”

Through his talks, Tommy is urging all health professionals to pledge about how they will treat patients. If you haven’t invited him to speak at your workplace, then do so. He isn’t selling anything - he’s just inspiring people to show kindness and ask patients what would make them feel less frightened and make them smile.

As if I hadn’t got through enough tissues at Tommy’s story, I then went to the inaugural Kate Granger Awards, presented by chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings to those showing exceptionally compassionate care. A doctor diagnosed with terminal cancer, Kate has been sharing ideas about how to offer better care, mainly through her #hellomynameis campaign, which encourages practitioners to introduce themselves to patients. She maintains it is the little things, such as this and sitting at the same level as patients, not looming over them, that improve care.

She and Tommy both believe that great care can change someone’s world. That’s the power of good nursing, and I think it’s something we need to stop and celebrate more often.

Jenni Middleton, editor Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed


Readers' comments (2)

  • tinkerbell

    Jeremy Hunt rides rough shod over citizens, clinicians and doctors. Clause 119 now legal, coming to a hospital near you soon. Unbelievable. Don't like a law just change it. Who is this so called government representing, themselves!

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  • Good Grief! With all of these stories in the media, and the editors of NT following like sheep and encouraging such insults even further, one would imagine nurses had never ever come into contact with a patient or are even capable of looking after members of their own family. Goodness knows why many of us have studied hard, dedicated our lives to the profession and offering the best possible care to our patients and moved heaven and earth against the odds to gain further education, development and experience. What the heck is going on. I thought NT was a nursing journal for nurses just like the former Nursing Mirror, the Nursing Standard, the BNJ and the Journal of Advanced Nursing and others and would at least support them against such derogatory public attitudes and be on their side!

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