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'You have to embrace the challenge and be able to think on your feet'

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Following in the footsteps of her mother, community nurse Mandy Parker is helping children with special needs return to school

Following in the footsteps of her mother, community nurse Mandy Parker is helping children with special needs return to school

Community nurse Mandy Parker believes in the restorative power of looking after people in their own homes and other community settings such as schools.

Ms Parker, professional development mentor (special schools) at Liverpool Community Health, gained her qualification in adult nursing in 1979, before qualifying as a children’s nurse in 1981. This was at the start of family centred care when the concept of play as a therapy was being introduced in hospitals.

“At that time, the focus was very much on children being treated in hospitals, whereas now it has shifted towards children being looked after in the community,” says Ms Parker. “When I started, it was quite something for a baby of 30-32 weeks who was dependent on oxygen to survive. Now it’s quite common.”

She puts the improvements down to advances in medical and nursing care and better knowledge about conditions.

Ms Parker trained as a health visitor in 2003. “I always felt that hospital care was the tip of the iceberg, because often people have as much of a support requirement when they leave hospital as when they are there,” she says.

Ms Parker’s mother was a community nurse. She trained as a nurse in 1947 and became a health visitor in 1964. “I have memories of her in her blue uniform with her bike looking into her Gladstone bag. She was also one of the first nurses to do visits in a minivan,” she recalls.

At the end of her career, Ms Parker’s mother was a community nurse working with special needs children, just as Ms Parker is now.

“It’s amazing to look at not just the things that have changed, but also the things that have stayed the same. My mother set up a sitting service with her friends to give parents some time off. She did it unofficially with her friends, but now it would be part of a respite service.”

Ms Parker’s mother also helped to run family planning clinics in Liverpool and Southport, one of which was in a veterinary surgery. “It was still quite a controversial thing in those days,” she says.

“She didn’t encourage me to become a community nurse originally. She wanted me to get experience in the acute sector - as that was the view in those days. However, she did encourage me to use my nursing skills in the community as a volunteer running parent and toddler groups.”

Community nurses need to be more autonomous. “You have to embrace the challenge and be able to think on your feet,” says Ms Parker. “No two weeks are the same, which is often the beauty of the job. You still need the ability to work in a team that you would in a hospital, but it’s a different kind of team.”

Ms Parker works with a team of about 18 nurses, and also works closely with physios, parents, local teachers, teaching assistants and community matrons.

“You don’t have the same level of immediate support that you would in a hospital so you get to know your colleagues and other members of the multidisciplinary team who can support you or offer advice an awful lot better.”

Special school nurses maintain close contact with families and get to know them well. “You realise other factors influence health and are able to do more preventive work in community nursing,” she says.

“It’s better for the children to have them in an environment they know as they can maintain their routine and there is increased family support. The families value it more too.”

Ms Parker works with schools to support children going back after illness. “One of the best things about the job is the look on the faces of youngsters when they return to school. They aren’t always expecting to go back and we can make that happen.”

Tom Dines

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