By Geoff Brennan, Executive Director Star Wards
“It has been a very positive process to recognise and acknowledge the excellent work which the whole team have already undertaken and identified other possibilities for further developments.”
– Dawn Young, Ward Manager – spot on comment as you will see!
If you are a keen reader of Star Wards blogs, it will hardly have escaped your notice that the wonderful Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust are creating something special with their “Talk 1st” programme. We have been there many times over the last few months giving well deserved Monty’s to mental health wards that have inspired and thrilled us.
But the Trust is much more than just mental health. Ward three at the Walkergate Park Hospital is a 16 bedded Neuro-Rehabilitation Inpatient ward which heroically cares for people who have had their lives shattered by a range of brain injury. To help provide a warm, welcoming and caring environment, Ward manager Dawn Young and her team of amazing people have taken what Star Wards offers to mental health wards and made it work for them. And they have done this with what I can only describe as “Geordie style”.
I visited the ward in December of 2017 to see it for myself and it was instantly recognisable as a Star Ward. Spotlessly clean, cheerfully decorated, full of life – the ward was amazing.
Dawn showed me round and we started in a small flatlet where a very stylish young woman was preparing to go out with friends. She was being helped by the ward and was full of praise for the staff, the environment and her very lovely flat looking out onto a beautiful courtyard. The flat was also linked to the outside world through internet access and Dawn told me that all patients could bring a lap top into hospital and stay connected. Self-contained, personal and very cosy, the flat was as far from clinical as you can imagine – and was better than many places I lived in when young!
Then out onto the ward proper, which was full of homemade Christmas decorations, fancy posters for a range of activities (not one out of date!), communal rooms chock a block with games, books, televisions, comfy chairs and even a games room complete with fuzzball table. In the wards own words – “Roaring fire and fish tank dvd’s have proved popular additions to our already well stocked lounge area which is utilised for patient meetings, film nights and social activities.” Given the nature of the ward, it was still a clinical environment, but this is one that has been softened, decorated and covered with tinsel.
On the walls of the main corridor there is a gorgeous “Positivitree” which Dawn tells me was designed by patients of the hospital. The Trust has a patient feedback system called “Points of You” (see what they did there?) and the tree is adorned with leaves containing these comments. And they are lovely, appreciative and wonderful. I would imagine any new patient or their carers would be heartened to read them.
The ward culture is driven by a desire to not only provide outstanding physical care, but give equal attention to the patients’ emotional welfare. Dawn explains that there are really two interlacing and equal teams on the ward to make this happen. In this, the clinical staff are assisted by a team called “Social Therapeutic and Recreational Rehabilitation Team” (STARRT) who work throughout the hospital but have special workers for specific wards. I met Kirstin Graham and Debbie Potter, the special STARRT workers for Ward three, and was immediately struck by how much pride they take in their work, and also how much respect there was across the two teams. I asked Kirstin and Debbie about what STARRT offers – and spent the next HOUR listening to an amazing range of activities, outings, opportunities and events. Animals? how’s about therapy visits from a range of animals including reptiles and birds of prey. Crafts and Hobbies? Individual? Kirstin and Debbie tell me about each patient, what they like and how they work to facilitate it. They also described how other staff on the ward help them – especially nurses Trish Thompson, Mary Boniface and Lorraine Spence. It turns our Trish is a bit of a poet and can turn her hand to creative writing. The “Getting to Know” staff file led to some interesting discoveries about the team… such as Abel Olaleye plays the saxophone! Ward three has a very talented bunch.
I have never worked in or been a patient on a Neuro-Rehabilitation ward and on the way to Newcastle I was a little worried I would feel a bit lost during this visit. I was wrong to think that. These lovely people are true Star Warders and I was warmed and awed by their generosity, humility and passion to provide an amazing service that, if the Positivitree is anything to go by, is deeply appreciated by their patients.
When I left Ward three the Full Monty was sitting happily on the wards nursing station. It looked like it really belonged there because, of course, it does.