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'Empower' nurses to put themselves in the shoes of patients

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A moving speech from a paralysed patient has underscored the power of nursing to change lives through the smallest actions.

Matt King received a standing ovation from nurse leaders last week following a talk in which he recounted his experiences of care following a rugby accident in which he broke his neck.

“Please empower your staff to try and put themselves in the shoes of the patient”

Matt King

Just 17 at the time of the accident, he recalled how simply by listening one nurse had changed his life as he came to terms with being paralysed from the neck down and dependent on a ventilator.

“I woke up in the middle of the night, and spent time talking to one of the night nurses at the Stoke Mandeville spinal injuries unit,” he remembered. “She did her best to provide me with support, advice and encouragement and talked to me about ex-patients of hers who’d gone on to rebuild their lives.

“Looking back, that time spent with nurse Tracy planted the seeds in my mind that it would be possible to rebuild my life. The building blocks on the way to recovery were laid that night – simply by listening to me, which she may not have seen as particularly important but which was very important to me, so much so that I’m sitting here nine years later talking about it,” he told delegates at the chief nursing officer for England’s summit in Manchester.

“She recognised that I was a vulnerable young adult, and that my future was uncertain. She communicated not through pity, but through empathy. It wasn’t what nurse Tracy did, but how she did it that made the biggest difference to me,” he added.

“I woke up in the middle of the night, and spent time talking to one of the night nurses at the Stoke Mandeville spinal injuries unit”

Matt King

It was a point Mr King further emphasised by talking about one of his worst experiences of care, which took place shortly after his accident. Unable to talk, he found that the only sound he could make was a clicking sound with his tongue “and that became my lifeline”.

“I awoke in the middle of the night and I was desperately trying to attract the attention of the nurse – my tracheostomy site was really painful, and I was worried I was not getting enough air. I clicked, and no one came. No matter how many times I clicked, the nurse would not come over. Panic started to set in.

“Eventually the nurse did come over, but rather than taking the time to work out what the problem was, all she did was walk around the bed and check the monitors before walking to the bottom of the bed and saying: ‘Patience is a virtue.’ She then walked off.

“That nurse hadn’t taken it upon herself to understand the situation I found myself in. There was no 6Cs.”

Mr King, who after leaving hospital went on to complete his A-levels and degree and who is now training to be a solicitor, continued: “Those who are in hospital are there because of your expertise and the expertise of your staff. They place themselves entirely under your control, and are entirely dependent on your care.

“The experiences they have during that time can often be life changing, pivotal experiences. Something which doesn’t seem important to you and your staff may be fundamentally important to the patient you’re caring for.

“Please empower your staff to try and put themselves in the shoes of the patient,” he urged. “A smile, a listening ear, simply treating your patients with respect as individuals. The smallest things make the biggest difference.

“As a patient, I can tell you from first hand experience that nursing has the ability to change lives,” he added.

CNO Summit 2014

Matt King with Care Makers and the CNO at the summit

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