Brenda Cheer hopes to reduce the shame children can feel as a result of incontinence
The most important part of Brenda Cheer’s role as a nurse is helping children. “I love to see a child’s pride in their success; I like to see them achieve things they previously wouldn’t have. Having childhood continence problems puts a dent in their self-esteem. We need to teach them it’s not something we are ashamed about.”
Ms Cheer is the first ever ERIC nurse - a nurse working with the UK charity, Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence. Her appointment was made possible by a 2013 grant from the Department of Health and the funding for the nursing project is fixed for three years.
Based in Bristol, Ms Cheer and her colleagues are working towards expanding the number of ERIC nurses: “If I do a good enough job, in an ideal world, there would be an ERIC nurse in different areas all over the country.”
With a career in nursing spanning 30 years, Ms Cheer explains that it is a profession she simply “fell into”. She speaks similarly of her specialisation. To keep the children’s neuropathic bladder clinic open at the University Hospital of Wales, she volunteered for a position that had to be filled immediately. “I had relevant experience, so I was asked that Friday if I could start Monday morning,” she explains.
Eleven years later she is still hard at work. As well as her role as paediatric specialist continence nurse at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, she also undertakes freelance teaching around the UK. “Discovering the ability to teach is a skill I’m proud of,” she says.
Ms Cheer teaches various aspects of continence care but most commonly deals with the management of childhood daytime wetting, constipation and soiling. Participants in training sessions are usually nurses but can be from other disciplines and also includes those working in education and social care.
Teaching is a key part of the ERIC nurse project. It aims to improve recognition of childhood continence problems to promote early intervention and increase awareness of self-help measures and support that is available through ERIC and the NHS. She says “working for the NHS is like being a small cog in a massive machine. With a small organisation, things get done more quickly. One can make a difference. If I want to do something I can drive things forward.”
We need to train staff to give parents the correct advice and we must improve the knowledge of anyone working with children
Ms Cheer explains that childhood continence problems are not always immediately recognised by children and parents and, when left untreated, can lead to worse health issues. Although often related to dietary and liquid intake, this is not the only factor. “Dietary interventions alone won’t cure constipation. We need to train primary care staff to give the correct advice to parents and we must improve the knowledge of anyone who works with children.”
One way Ms Cheer and ERIC are trying to promote knowledge is through child-friendly websites and leaflets. They have even established “poo and wee” characters to make bowel and bladder health easier for children to understand. Compiling new leaflets has become a significant part of Ms Cheer’s workload, as ERIC is currently developing a series of three pamphlets it hopes to distribute to every child and their parents. Aimed at children of different ages, she explains: “The first would be distributed to two-year-olds, the second is for children entering primary school, and the third for those moving into high school. We need to make sure that every child and parent gets one.”
Ms Cheer’s positive and passionate attitude made her an obvious choice to head the ERIC nurse project. She admits that when she was initially appointed she “was a bit daunted”. But, as she herself explains: “It’s a challenge, but I’m not fearful because I know we can do it.”