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ROLE MODEL

New homes for neurology

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After seeing young people with neurological conditions placed in old people’s homes, Jan Flawn decided to set up something better for them

When Jan Flawn, founder of neurological care centre PJ Care, was 15, her class had a visiting speaker she would never forget - a nurse. As the woman glided into the room, wearing her pristine uniform and white pleated hat, Ms Flawn knew what

she wanted to be when she left school.

As a 15-year-old with no qualifications for a job in nursing, Ms Flawn deferred her dream for several years. Years later, Ms Flawn’s call to nursing came again, in the form of her daughter, who was born with spina bifida.

“A friend of mine, who was a nurse, taught me how to care for her healthcare needs after she was born,” says Ms Flawn. “I felt the urge to be a nurse again and knew this is what I needed to do.”

So, Ms Flawn finally pursued a career in nursing. She says she has since enjoyed a well-rounded career, which came from her simple desire to be a nurse.

At the 2013 First Women Awards in June, she won the First Women of Business Services Award for her achievements as owner of PJ Care since April 2001.

She credits the accolade to her desire to make changes within her field.

After completing her nurse training in 1978, Ms Flawn worked for several NHS organisations, all the while noticing the frustrations of her co-workers when their ideas weren’t heard by management.

“I felt it took a long time to make a decision. By the time they made a decision, the patient had been discharged,” she says. “It wasn’t the people at the NHS who were the problem; it was the system.”

Her mentor and friend David Coombs, director of nursing at Gloucester NHS Trust, stepped in with advice.

“He said, ‘Jan, if you want to change the management structure, then why don’t you become a manager?’ I’ll never forget that,” she says.

“Sometimes you want to change the world but it doesn’t want to be changed. You have to do something to make a difference.”

She knew the difference she wanted to make in adult neurological healthcare.

“In the private sector, a lot of young people are not cared for in the right environment with a skilled care team. We take them off the ventilators, and what happens then? Where do they go? The cheapest possible place - an elderly care home. They deserve dignity and need an environment that can care for their physical needs.”

With no previous business experience, Ms Flawn launched into a plan to open a care centre for adults including young people, which she decided to call PJ care, combining her first initial with her husband Peter’s.

Now, with centres in Peterborough and Milton Keynes, PJ Care employs 450 staff and cares for 180 residents.

All patients are looked after by nurses who specialise in neurological treatment. They care for patients in ventilation units and for those with progressive neurological conditions, such as Huntington’s disease.

“We look after people who have complex needs,” says Ms Flawn. “We are unique in that our care centres are purpose built and designed to cater for people with neurological conditions.”

She remembers one man, who came into the centre after a sustaining a brain injury while working as a football referee. He was on his back, unable to walk.

“After three years with us, he walked his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day,” she recalls. “When people come to you, you don’t know what they can achieve - no one knows. By working intensely and closely with the person, they move along.”

After 13 years as a business owner and a host of similar rehabilitation success stories, Ms Flawn says she still looks to her nursing roots for guidance.

“It’s all about planning,” she says. “You have to be aware of complications. As a nurse, you have to take imminent action and your skills take over. It’s the same thing in business.”

Hilary Weaver

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