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Pressure ulcers don't need to happen

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After seeing first-hand the pain and misery pressure ulcers can cause, student nurse Charlotte stepped up and did something about it

Five years ago I was 18 and had just begun my first role as a health care assistant. I was working for an agency and at this particular time, assigned to care shifts with a lady who was receiving end-of-life care. I didn’t know much about pressure ulcers back then – my knowledge was limited to “if you see a ‘pink bit’, tell the nurse” and, even then, the person would probably still go on to develop a pressure ulcer.

I will never forget the way this lady shook, the sound she made and the fact that her eyes literally rolled from the pain as we turned her and the nurses changed her dressings. That lady died a few hours later from septicaemia. She spent her last few hours in the most horrendous pain, and I’m ashamed now to say that it was down to us. I didn’t know much back then, but I knew it wasn’t right, and I cried all the way home.

Fast-forward five years and I’m now a student nurse at the University of Lincoln about to enter my 2nd year. Last November, I heard about the ‘stop the pressure’ campaign and all of a sudden, like a light bulb, I realised for the first time that pressure ulcers didn’t need to happen.

I was amazed - people don’t need to go through things like that? We can actually do something about this?  I could have learned that before, why had no-one told me? I was angry but happy, and determined to make sure everyone knew about it.

I wanted to find a way to do my bit in supporting the wider move to eliminate pressure ulcers, as well as ensuring that my student colleagues felt the same way I did. I came across situations in placement where I was able to make a difference, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make a fundamental difference alone. From speaking to my fellow students I knew that some were just as passionate but that others weren’t, or perhaps didn’t have enough understanding. In our learning, little time is given to tissue viability education or to preventing pressure ulcers.

My first mentor was an incredible tissue viability link nurse who was dedicated to preventing pressure ulcers so I’d received excellent training and education on the matter, but I knew that wasn’t the case for everyone. I know from research and experience that students provide much of the personal care on placements, and so are in a prime position to be able to spot early signs of a pressure ulcer or identify person at risk.

All we need to prevent pressure ulcers are three “key ingredients” - knowledge, a motivation to do something, and the belief that we can do something.

I discussed ideas with my university for a “mini conference” for just my year; the idea then grew to include all three years, and here we are today, a few weeks away from the first student nurse conference on pressure ulcers. This conference will raise awareness, educate, inspire and empower, helping nurses of the future understand and believe that every patient contact counts and every member of the team (including students) is accountable for preventing the avoidable misery and harm of pressure sores. Essentially the idea is to give students the tools and inspiration they need to prevent pressure ulcers and ask them to pledge to “stopping the pressure”.

The support for the idea has been phenomenal. Ruth May and Lyn McIntyre, who led the original Stop the Pressure campaign to eliminate all grade 2,3 and 4 pressure ulcers across the Midlands and East, have championed it from the start, alongside our local trust Tissue Viability Nurse Consultant and my university. We now have support from Jane Nixon, Professor of Tissue Viability and Clinical Trials Research at the Institute Clinical Trials Research, Health Education England, the Care Makers, NHS Improving Quality and Nursing Times editor Jenni Middleton. It’s been great and all of the above will be in attendance. We even have a service user and carer speaking at the event to tell their story of living with a pressure ulcer.pressure

For me, what’s really great is seeing other students and Tissue Viability Nurses from across the country interested in the topic when they might not have been previously, and eager to hold their own “conference”. We may be students, but we can take just as much responsibility for this matter as any other person on the ward. We can be an extra pair of hands and a fresh pair of eyes. There are 500 students attending our conference, and if half of them are able to prevent just one pressure ulcer across 6-10 placements each - that’s a big difference made, and hopefully a huge help to trusts whose nurses are already so stretched. Now, multiply that number as the idea spreads and more students across the country engage …and we have a big focus and difference.

Thank you for reading. I hope you’ll get behind #stopthepressure and be inspired. Join the conversation on Twitter, or even organise your own conference.  Your support is very much appreciated and I urge you to join us at this exciting time.


Find out more about the conference here: Stop the Pressure


Charlotte Johnson is a second year student nurse at University of Lincoln

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