CARER, confidante, friend, honorary family member and occasional handyman, the role of Prospect’s community nurses extends far beyond pain control and symptom management.
After a morning spent liaising with district nurses, GPs, dieticians and an array of health professionals to discuss the care of their charges, clinical nurse specialists get started on their rounds, visiting terminally-ill patients in their homes and assisting them and their relatives in any way possible and imaginable.
Over the years, Helen Mansell, like fellow nurses at the Wroughton hospice, has had to adapt to any situation, striking a balance between her medical duties and role as a strong emotional brace for families across Swindon and North Wiltshire.
Exercising her funny bone, finding the words to comfort patients as they struggle to come to terms with the finality of their diagnosis, or enabling them to enjoy the time they have left to the fullest are just a few of her daily tasks.
“If I visited a patient and they were not well, I would liaise with their GP or district nurse to help with their symptoms,” she said. “It’s really a multi-disciplinary approach.
“We usually do an average of three or four visits a day. They can last anything from an hour to three hours. It depends on what the patient needs.
“It’s about allowing people to make the most of every day. And it is as much about the patient as it is about the family. Caring for the family is paramount. We need to support the family and support the patient.
“And you almost become part of the family set up. You come in and out very often and you build up a relationship. We have got our little jokes, you become close. It’s difficult not to.”
“You name it we do it,” added Helen, who is one of 12 community nurses at Prospect. “You would be amazed at what we get involved in. Something might happen when you are in patients’ homes and there is no-one else around so you help with anything, even moving furniture. You are in a family situation and you are part of it.
“It’s about allowing people to have normality. You want to wave a magic wand but you can’t so you do your best to support patients and their families. We are here to promote independence and help patients live well. And to do that you focus on the positive and try to maintain hope and help where you can.”
Each community nurse looks after between 30 and 40 patients on average.
Without her continued support, Gordon Webb, 78, and his wife Lesley would have been unable to cope with the realities of life after a terminal diagnosis.
In January, the Freshbrook pensioner was diagnosed with incurable oesophagus cancer and had a stent fitted to allow him to eat.
As his health swiftly deteriorated, Lesley, 58, became his full-time carer and had to navigate complex health issues, bouts of sickness and the constant need to monitor her husband’s diet; not to mention tackle mounds of bureaucracy to receive the correct benefits in her changed circumstances.
“It started about two years ago,” she said. “He had two tumours in his bladder and then they found the cancer. He had radiotherapy and they put in a stent in January and that’s when they said they couldn’t do anything more for him. That’s when we were referred to Prospect.
“We were shocked when they told us he had cancer. They said he had between six months and a year to live.
“Gordon likes Helen’s visits. She is helping us make the most of the time we have. I know I can rely on her.
“She gives me advice on benefits, his diet and medications; it’s a struggle to find things he can eat. She is helping me to deal with everything. Now I have to wash him bathe him, it’s a 24 hour job. I felt on my own when he was diagnosed.
“I feel like I can talk to her, tell her my worries. I’m quite nervous sometimes about Gordon and it is difficult but at the moment he is feeling better. We are lucky to have Helen with us.”
Choked with emotion, Gordon expressed his gratitude to Helen: “She supports me. She is cheerful, kind and funny. We have a laugh, we’ve got to.”