What our colleagues say

Patients are at the heart of everything we do, but we can’t give our patients the care and attention they need and deserve without the dedication of our brilliant teams.

It is thanks to our committed 5,000-strong workforce that patients in Kent and outside of the county, where we provide services, are looked after in the community day after day. We know that our colleagues are our greatest asset and we know that we need to look after them too. We care about our people, we invest in them. We want our workforce to develop so we can continually improve the service we provide and the skills base we have as a community provider.

Don’t just take our word for it though; in this section you can see what some of our team have to say about working for Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust.



Our apprentice scheme and young people

Business administration apprenticeship

Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust employs a diverse workforce, helping service users manage a wide range of conditions and circumstances in a community setting. Working with apprentices is encouraged, with  programmes in dental nursing, IT, orthotics, health & social care and business administration all working well.

Emma Darvill is a Senior Employee Relations Adviser for the Trust. She works within the Employee Relations Department, part of HR, providing managers with help and support for all formal contact with the Trust’s circa 5,500  employees.

‘Our team’s first experience of working with an apprentice was when we took on Hannah in September 2014,’ says Emma. ‘Hannah’s apprenticeship included Level 2 Intermediate Apprenticeship in Business Administration, which she completed in September 2015.

‘At the outset the team wanted the opportunity to encourage and develop someone new to the NHS and see how the programme worked for the team as a whole. It’s been very successful. What we’ve given to Hannah, in terms of encouragement and extra opportunities to learn, we have earned back twice over. From the beginning she was committed to succeeding and really engaged with the whole department.

‘Hannah came to us from the retail sector but was seeking a career change. She wanted to put everything she had into it. Her approach has always been fresh, energetic and she’s always very keen to learn. She made things easier for the rest of the team by being an additional resource – whatever the task at hand was.

We were always confident that she would complete any task to a high standard. Sometimes having Hannah on the team almost felt like a luxury! For example, having a highly competent extra person available to take minutes at meetings.

‘We promoted Hannah to Employee Relations Officer after just eight months with us; before completing her apprenticeship. She would always think and learn beyond her job description in order to fulfil the apprenticeship assignments that she was working on and this gave her a particularly good skill set. She has monthly visits from a tutor and each month would bring a new set of learning challenges which she tackled successfully.

‘The fact that she began her career with the NHS this way means that we have been able to mould her development in a way that really meets the needs of our department and the organisation overall.

‘Taking on an apprentice is a benefit, not a chore. There was really very little additional work for me to do as her manager. I have regular one-toone sessions with all the employees I line manager and Hannah was no different and the paperwork was minimal.

‘Helping someone to develop is very worthwhile. In return I have a proficient member of staff, a real high performer who I know will deliver what the team needs.’

Meet Hannah - apprentice ambassador

Hannah MilllardWhen Hannah Millard decided it was time to switch careers, she knew she would need to retrain but couldn’t afford to give up work and go back to full-time studying.

A friend suggested that an apprenticeship could be the answer, and Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust gave her the opportunity she was looking for.“I had been working in retail but I realised that it was the people management I enjoyed most, rather than the customer-facing side of the role,” said Hannah, who now works at Trinity House in Ashford as an employee relations officer.

“I liked the HR side of things and wanted to move in to that area, but I couldn’t get the training I needed without having a relevant job – and I couldn’t just go back to college because I already had a house and bills to pay,” said the 28-year-old.

“After a friend told me about apprenticeships, I applied to the trust and was offered a role as a business admin apprentice from September 2014.

Hannah finished her apprenticeship in November last year, but by that time she had already been offered a full-time job – as well as being well on her way to winning an award.

She was one of a number of apprentices who flew the flag for the trust at the Apprenticeship and Support Workforce Awards 2016, organised by Health Education England – Kent Surrey and Sussex. While Hannah and colleague Ellie Gawn won two of the categories, no less than four other young people were included on the shortlist.

Hannah was named Ambassador of the Year in recognition of her work to promote the benefit of apprenticeships across the organisation and to the wider world.

“I took part in careers fairs and recruitment events, I contributed stories to our intranet, I gave a briefing on apprenticeships to a group that included our new HR Director Louise Norris and I was interviewed for the local media,” she explained. “It helped to get the message out there – and it showed that apprentices aren’t all in their late teens.”

After completing her business admin NVQ Level 2 six months after being taken on full-time by the trust, Hannah was keen to continue learning and immediately signed up for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD level 3 certificate in human resource practice.

“It was the CIPD training that I had been keen to do from the outset, but there was no way I could get on the course without a role in HR, which is why being offered an apprenticeship with the trust was such a great opportunity for me,” said Hannah.

“It’s a really interesting course, I am learning lots of new skills and I’m enjoying it even more than I thought I would,” added Hannah. “It’s been a real boost to my career and it’s helping me make a difference to the work of the trust.

Hannah’s role is new to the trust and reflects a proactive approach to tackling employee problems such as absenteeism. “I am there to talk to people who may, for instance, be suffering from a stress-related condition and make sure the trust is offering the right support to help them back to work,” she explained.

“Increasingly, I am looking at new support systems aimed at preventing this kind of problem happening in the first place. It’s very rewarding to bring in new procedures and then monitor the results to see if we are making a positive difference to the lives of our staff.”

Ambitious to continue developing new skills and progress her career, Hannah is hoping to embark on her level 7 CIPD certificate, having been told she can probably skip 5 because of her existing proficiency. She may even go on to do a Masters’ Degree in HR, but is currently enjoying working with her current team and making a difference to the lives of colleagues.

It was the best thing I ever did...

Ellie GawnWork experience in a local solicitors’ office may not have inspired Ellie Gawn in quite the way her teachers were expecting, but it proved one thing very clearly.

“I realised that although school really wasn’t my kind of environment, I enjoyed working in an office,” said the 18-year-old. “So after one term in the sixth form at school I left and decided instead to apply for an apprenticeship.

“It turned out to be a great decision,” said Ellie, now happily working as an admin support officer with us.

“When I was on work experience at the solicitors’ office I was always hungry to learn more things and be given more responsibility and it’s been the same with the trust. I realised that I wasn’t going to enjoy staying on at school and I didn’t have any financial commitments so I had nothing to lose.

“The idea of working, being paid and training all at the same time just seemed like a great idea to me and I saw it as having a foot in the door when it came to getting a full time job. It was the best thing I ever did.”

Ellie signed up as a business administration apprentice in February 2015 and within eight months had been offered the full-time job she now enjoys so much.

The icing on the cake came when Ellie, who is a member of the Clinical Education and Standards Team, won the award for Level 2 Non-Clinical Apprentice of the Year at the Apprenticeship and Support Workforce Awards 2016, organised by Health Education England – Kent Surrey and Sussex.

Ellie was one of a number of apprentices who flew the flag for the trust. While she and colleague Hannah Millard won two of the categories, four other young people narrowly missed out after being included on the shortlist.

A delighted Liz Brisley, Lifelong Learning Advisor with Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, said she was “absolutely delighted that the work of our apprentices has been recognised in this way”.

She added: “The fact that both Ellie and Hannah are not just award winners, but have now been offered full-time roles, shows the value of apprenticeships in giving people opportunities as well as new skills and a salary.”

Health Education England has described apprenticeships as “a vitally important way of ensuring a steady flow of high calibre new entrants to health and care roles with the right skills and values of compassion and care”.

Ellie was given support to complete her NVQ Level 2 in business administration even after being offered a full-time post, and is going on to tackle her Level 3. “I am keen to keep learning and I want to develop my career with the trust,” she commented.

The award-winning apprentice has already made a difference to the work of the organisation, making a number of changes to clinical education training to make it run more efficiently.

The team also arranges funding for external training and supports student placements by liaising with clinical settings to find suitable vacancies.

“It seems strange to think that I would still be at school sitting ‘A’ levels if I hadn’t decided instead to apply for an apprenticeship,” she commented. “Now here I am working as part of a supportive team, enjoying my independence and making a difference to the lives of the clinical staff.”

Our  dentists

"My ambition is for my patients to be pain free and able to eat well.''

Martin Tsvetkov 2It only took two weeks for Martin Tsvetkov to realise that the target-driven world of private dentistry was not for him.

The Bulgarian-born dentist, unhappy at being pushed to refer a set number of patients for expensive extra treatments, resigned from his position, joined the Church Hill dental practice in Ramsgate and has never looked back.

“Now I give patients the best possible treatment but only carry out the work they need,” he explained. “I see them as patients who want strong, healthy teeth, not as a source of increased profit.”

The airy, modern, well-equipped Church Hill practice is run by Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, which looks after a broad range of patients at its surgeries in Ramsgate and Sandwich.

Because they focus on the patient rather than on profits, each of the surgeries has modern equipment – including an on-site Cerec machine – and well-qualified staff, which is good news for Martin and his colleagues as well as for the people they treat.

“We have the best equipment and all the materials we need, everything is well maintained and we have great back-up from the reception and nursing staff,” the 37 year-old explained.

Martin, who qualified as a dentist at the University of Medicine in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, in 2002, came to the UK in 2010 at the invitation of an agency that was looking to recruit professionals to work in this country.

He was interviewed for a post in Devon, but instead joined a mixed NHS/private practice in Folkestone, where he worked alongside a friend from university who had also moved here.

In 2013 the practice was sold to a private company that was committed to extracting as much money as possible from its patients, something that Martin felt was out of step with the reason he had studied to become a dentist. After just two weeks of target-setting and referral challenges, he quit.

“There was just too much interference,” he said. “Yes, some patients need bridgework or implants, but I can’t find a certain number of those patients every month just to keep the business owner happy.

“My ambition is for my patients to be pain free and able to eat well. A nice smile is a bonus, but I’m not interested in how I can persuade them to opt for expensive treatment they don’t really need. That’s why I love working here at Ramsgate, where I can get on with my job, backed up by great colleagues and excellent equipment but with no commercial pressure.”

Having settled at Ramsgate, Martin has no plans to move on. “I like to get to know my patients and build up a bond with them,” he said. “Patients like to trust their dentist and I think some of them can find it off-putting to see a different person each time. That’s something we try to avoid here.”

Alongside being able to make patient-focused decisions based purely on the clinical evidence, Martin likes the fact that the lack of a profit motive means the trust keeps its equipment in tip-top condition.

“We don’t wait for something to go wrong and then try to find the cheapest way to mend it,” he explained. “Everything is serviced and maintained so that it rarely goes wrong in the first place – and if it does than it’s put right properly and quickly.

“That’s great for the patients, but it’s also good for the dentists. It’s rewarding to be able to work with quality equipment – including our own digital X-ray equipment.”

The support team is equally first class. “A lot of practices only recruit trainees because they are cheaper, but at Ramsgate we have fully qualified dental nurses and one trainee who is genuinely being trained, not struggling to learn while on the job.

“All in all, it’s a great place to work and as a result we see a lot of happy – and smiling – patients.”

Working with a supportive team for our patients

Vitor Malta1Although dentist Vitor Malta has not changed his place of work since 2011, the job itself has changed around him.

When Vitor joined the team working at the premises in Church Hill, Ramsgate, the practice treated NHS patients but was operated by the private company that had recruited him from Portugal just three years after he graduated from the University of Lisbon.

The business then changed hands, but when the new owners fell foul of monopolies legislation and were forced to release some of their practices, the Church Hill contract was one of those made available.

After operating as a private surgery while negotiations went on, the contract was taken over by Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, and after successfully applying to stay on, Vitor found himself operating in an environment that was focused purely on patients rather than profit.

It was a change that he enjoyed, not least because he found himself working with the best equipment and delivering quality care without having to meet targets for ‘selling’ more expensive treatments.

“I deliver exactly the same level of care for the trust as I did when I worked in the private sector, but I don’t have to worry about the profit motive,” he explained. “I also work with a very supportive, highly professional team that works together for the benefit of the patients.

As well as supporting him in his day-to-day dentistry, the trust is backing 33 year-old Vitor’s ambitions to take his skills to the next level and earn his MSc in restorative general dental practice.

After successfully gaining his certificate in year one, Vitor is now in the middle of a two-year diploma course, studying at the Eastman Dental Institute, which is linked to University College London. Years four and five will, he hopes, see him emerge with the letters MSc after his name

When it comes to supporting patients, the trust is keen to make sure dentists like Vitor have the up-to-date equipment they need.

“If we put forward a good case for new materials, or a new piece of kit, the trust always tries to be supportive and find the budget to make sure we can deliver the best possible care to our patients,” Vitor commented. “As clinicians, it’s reassuring to know that our commitment to providing the best treatment using modern techniques is backed up by the trust.”

That commitment is why the Ramsgate surgery has its own on-site Cerec machine and a mechanical root canal treatment system.

Our doctors

What’s it like to be a community doctor?

Amy-HeskettDr Amy Heskett, works in our Home Treatment Team in west Kent. She likes her role, explaining: “I enjoy the fact that you can assess a patient in their own environment; this enables a truly holistic assessment.

“It is much easier to understand how social factors are affecting their health, this is harder to appreciate on a ward. Community medicine demands that you use your clinical skills, but also think inventively to solve problems.

“Community medicine is truly multi-disciplinary and this team can include family members, nurses, voluntary services, therapists and even pets!

“I find it easier to have candid conversations when in patients’ homes and I also have a greater understanding of their goals and beliefs.”

Here, she talks about life as a community doctor and explains how sometimes pets can have a role too…

“Widespread wheeze, bronchial breathing, high fever, low oxygen sats, on second course of antibiotics…..mmmmm.

“As part of the Home Treatment Team I’ve been asked to visit a gentleman who needs our support to keep him out of hospital.

“Our team responds within two hours of a referral to diagnose, assess and treat if we can to help people stay where they want to – in the comforts of their own home.

“But, on this occasion, Mr D is really poorly, and I explain to him I really feel he needs to be admitted to hospital. It is at that point I am aware of a large presence behind me. Like a ward sister creeping up on you at a ward station and shaking their head, it is Mr D’s dog that nudges my hand firmly.

“Mr D has mental capacity and despite explaining the risks associated with staying at home, it is his concern for his large Alsatian (incongruously named Lucy) that deters Mr D from accepting admission.

“So Lucy stands guard as I form a compromise with Mr D. The nurses will visit tonight to re-check his observations, a trial of IV antibiotics and the addition of prednisolone.’’

It's all in a day's work for Medical Director Dr Peter Maskell

Medical Director Dr Peter Maskell talks about why he loves his work and the satisfaction of being able to continue clinical practice as a consultant geriatrician.

“As medical director for KCHFT, I have a varied role which often sees me travelling throughout Kent to meet our staff, visit our hospitals and link with people from other organisations.

“Our trust’s vision is to provide high-quality, good value community-based services to prevent people from becoming unwell, to help them recover when they do, avoid hospital admissions and enhance quality of life. As medical director, all that I do contributes towards making sure we achieve this across our Adult, Children’s and Sexual Health clinical directorates.

“The Medical Directorate is responsible for providing oversight of all doctors working for the trust, as well as offering leadership for medicines management, clinical audit and research and development.

“As a regular and important part of my role, I chair a committee for overall quality surveillance in the trust and also chair committees supporting the pharmacy, research and development, audit and clinical development functions. The governance, quality assurance and guidance offered by the Medical Directorate are essential for the delivery of the excellent patient care we strive to deliver.

“As the NHS landscape is changing, I frequently give consideration to the trust’s current performance and possibilities for future development.  To achieve this I work closely with colleagues within Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, and form working relationships with local commissioners, local acute hospital trusts, social service providers, mental health trusts and the voluntary sector.

“Alliances, joint working and shared best practice are the future direction for our trust and the Medical Directorate aspires to maximise the effectiveness of our medically-led services, making them wider reaching via new models of care. It’s important for me to engage with our medical staff and hear their views.

“Our Medical Staff Committee meets four times a year and I actively listen to the opinions and suggestions expressed. A lead appraiser manages and quality assures appraisals and a revalidation panel meets to help advise on doctors going through this process.

“I continue my clinical practice as a consultant geriatrician, with regular work developing the older persons’ assessment and liaison services at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust.”


Our healthcare assistants

Why Clare doesn't mind an 80-mile round trip for work

MeadAfter a nervy introduction to her career as a healthcare assistant, Clare Mead quickly settled into the job she loves – and now she can’t imagine working anywhere else.

The 39 year-old has worked at Faversham Cottage Hospital for more than half her life to date, even though in recent years it has involved a round trip of nearly 80 miles from her Paddock Wood home.

“The hospital feels like home to me, and the staff and patients are my family. I could apply for a position closer to Paddock Wood but I know it wouldn’t be the same.”

Clare applied to work for the health service at the age of 18 after doing a similar job in a nursing home and working for a short time for Age Concern.

“The interview was a bit nerve-wracking,” she recalled. “I walked in and found a panel of three sisters sitting in a row, with one chair for me in front of them. I got through that but then I didn’t hear anything for a fortnight.”

After finally getting the call, Clare began work as an HCA, a role she has continued to find rewarding over the past 21 years. “What I really enjoy is to make patients smile, even though they may be feeling poorly or in pain,” she said.

“We don’t have much time to chat but if you can cheer someone up while doing your job I think you should take that opportunity. “I’ve seen many changes over the years and HCAs are always busy, but I think it’s still important to try to make a difference.”

Clare has seen a number of changes in her personal life, too, and the continuity of her job and the friendship of her colleagues have played an important role in helping her through some difficult times.

She lived in Faversham as a child and still her many friends in the town, while her parents still live in Graveney and her brother Keith is along the coast in Whitstable. “Those links with the town have been strengthened by my working life at the cottage hospital and I like the stability that it gives me,” Clare explained.

Her move to Paddock Wood came eight years ago when she married Richard and sold her own home in Faversham – but while she describes the relationship as a ‘fresh start’, it didn’t involve a change of jobs. “No, I haven’t even been tempted to look closer to home,” she said. “The cottage hospital is my second home and not one I want to change.”

It takes Clare between 45 minutes and an hour and a half to drive to Faversham, and while the recent fall in oil prices has cut the cost significantly, it’s still a fair outlay, but one she is happy to make for the chance to work alongside good friends.

The couple have three children still at home, with two year-old Daniel and six year-old Katie joining teenager Lauren, Clare’s daughter from a previous marriage.

Clare, who normally works the night shift, gets a lot of job satisfaction from interacting with the patients and won a national award for the results she achieved in her NVQ level 3.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes to the work we do,” she added. “We used to have a lot of long-stay patients who would be with us for anything up to seven or eight years, but now more and more people are treated in the comfort of their own homes and we mainly look after patients needing rehabilitation.

“It means we don’t get to know the patients as well but we still try to make a difference to their lives as well as looking after their personal care needs.”

Becoming a healthcare assistant changed Rebecca’s life

Rebecca Pullen with HCA Karen FraserWhen Rebecca Pullen left school at 16 with just a handful of GCSEs, she drifted into a job at the residential care home that had earlier provided her with work experience.

She moved to a care agency, still without any great sense that this was her favoured career path, but then came the opportunity that would turn her life around.

“I saw an advertisement for a health care assistant with the Ashford Community District Nursing Team, applied and was offered the job,” said Rebecca. “It literally changed my life.”

Just a few years later, and with “a huge amount of support from colleagues”, Rebecca is working as Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust’s first ever trainer dedicated to working with healthcare assistants (HCA) across the whole of the organisation.

She is also mentoring colleagues studying for a foundation degree in health and social care and is working towards a BSc in Health and Social Care after successfully completing the foundation stage.

“When I left school with hardly any qualifications I never dreamed I would have a chance to develop a career like this,” said Rebecca. “It’s been an amazing transition and I feel really lucky. I have also had huge support from the trust.”

While luck may have played a small part, the trust clearly spotted Rebecca’s infectious enthusiasm and her commitment to helping HCAs deliver the best possible care, both for their own job satisfaction and for the benefit of patients.

“It’s so rewarding when you spend a day helping someone carry out a procedure and they master it successfully,” she said. “They are really pleased with what they have achieved and it gives them a real boost. Clearly the patients benefit, too.”

As Practice Development Lead Carole Miller, who nominated Rebecca for a KCHFT Working Smarter Award, commented: “New HCAs join the trust from a variety of backgrounds and with a varying range of skills. Rebecca goes out to help them all reach the right level of competence and then continues to support them.”

How exactly she does that is to a large extent a matter of her own initiative. “Teams contact me to ask me to help with new starters or with HCAs who need help developing certain skills – anything from taking blood to giving injections – and I arrange to visit them.

“I sign off their competencies and provide any further help and support they need,” she explained. “I work all over the county and have supported staff in Edenbridge, Gravesham, Hawkhurst, Faversham, Deal and Tonbridge community hospitals, as well as many other areas.”

As well as helping unregistered staff complete their competency workbooks, 27 year-old Rebecca supports seconded foundation degree students and has created fact sheets as well as giving students one-to-one support.

As Carole explained: “The university – Canterbury Christchurch – has told us what a difference Rebecca has made to the standard of the practical assessments students have to hand in and is helping her write a paper highlighting the new role she has taken on.”

Rebecca studied for her own foundation degree – seconded by the trust – between 2013 and 2015. “I had thought of applying for a nursing degree but at that time there were no secondments available so I opted for the foundation degree in health and social care because I wanted to develop new skills.”

Rebecca was offered a Band 4 job while still on the course, but then came an even bigger break. “As the course was coming to an end I saw the advertisement for this new training role,” she explained. “During the interview I had to teach one of the interview panel how to take a manual blood pressure, which was an interesting experience.

“Over the weekend I managed to convince myself that I had blown my chances and told myself it was because I had been concentrating on my final assessments, but on the Monday morning I heard that the panel had been impressed and wanted to offer me the job. I was amazed and thrilled.”

As the first unregistered practitioner in the Clinical Education and Standards Team, Rebecca set about making the job her own and has since impressed managers and colleagues with her dedication and inspiration.

“The trust already had four clinical skills facilitators for nursing staff and decided to introduce a dedicated resource for unregistered nurses – HCAs,” explained Carole. “It’s a role that Rebecca has absolutely excelled in and we are delighted with her progress.

“As well as giving HCAs key skills and benefiting patients in the process, Rebecca is also easing the pressure on nursing staff who would otherwise be supporting unregistered staff with procedures.”

Rebecca may have come a long way since leaving school, but she’s far from finished. Having just completed her mentorship programme, she is back studying again, this time aiming to complete her health and social care degree. “For someone who wasn’t keen on studying at school, I seem to have got the bug now,” she commented.

While Rebecca is yet to decide whether her future lies in moving into nursing or continuing to help the trust develop its training programme, it’s clear that her current role gives her immense satisfaction. “It’s very rewarding to watch someone realise that they can do something they didn’t think they would be able to do,” she said. “It’s a great feeling for both of us.”

Our nurses

Alison’s aim is to make a real difference to patients’ lives

Alison-SmithWhile training for her dream job as a nurse, Alison Smith had a nagging feeling that she might have made a bit of a mistake – until she began working in the community. “I thoroughly enjoyed the training but I wasn’t particularly inspired by my hospital placements,” she recalled.

“Nursing on the wards didn’t seem to suit me, but my final 12-week placement as a community nurse removed any doubt that this was the career for me.” The confirmation that she really did love the job came as a relief for Alison, who entered the profession in her mid-thirties to satisfy a long-held ambition to become a nurse.

“After school I became a personal assistant, but I always had a nagging feeling that I should have been a nurse,” she said. Training as a first aider and volunteering with the Red Cross reinforced that feeling, but with a young family to care for, Alison’s career change had to wait. The family spent some time living in France and when their return in 2005 coincided with youngest daughter Nicole starting school, Alison realised it was “now or never”.

She explained: “I went to a recruitment event at Maidstone Hospital and came away completely inspired by a talk given by one of the team. I came away thinking ‘yes, that’s me’ and signed up to do a Diploma in Nursing at Canterbury Christ Church University.”

Supported by husband Rod and a useful bursary, Alison completed the course and “absolutely loved” her 12-week management placement with the community nursing team based at Tonbridge Cottage Hospital. “I liked the autonomy of working one-to-one with patients in their own home but with the back-up provided by the team,” she explained.

“It’s so much better for everyone if people can be cared for at home in familiar surroundings rather than in hospital.” Alison gained vital experience and improved her assessment skills working with the Rapid Response Team based in Tonbridge for a year and then applied to join the community nursing team at the cottage hospital.

It was with the Rapid Response Team that Alison first worked alongside Rebecca Lee, then setting out on her nursing career.  She praised Alison’s professional approach to nursing and her ability to “think outside the box”.

A keen student, Alison wanted to turn her diploma into a degree and began to study individual modules in areas such as mentorship, diabetes management and nurse prescribing. It was then that Modern Matron Stephanie Rhodes stepped in and suggested that Alison should instead train to become a specialist practitioner in district nursing.

“This involved a one-year university course that would give me the degree I wanted but without having to juggle work and study,” Alison said. “I spent two days a week at Greenwich University, one on independent study and the other two learning while working alongside a mentor.

“I figured that the studying I had already done would not be wasted as it was all useful learning, and so I was keen to take up the offer.”

The course focused on management skills rather than on clinical practice, and Alison proved very good at it. In January 2015, she qualified with a first class honours degree and was awarded the Phillip Goodeve-Docker Award, presented by the Queen’s Nursing Institute to the most outstanding district nursing student.

She is now back at Tonbridge, once again working alongside Rebecca, as a district nurse team leader – “a sister in old money”. Alison is understandably proud of the fact that her qualification enables her to use the title ‘district nurse’.

She added: “I have a great team of community staff nurses and I am very proud of the work we do and the impact we make to the lives of our patients.”

Her extra qualification means that Alison gets to see more complex patients, as well as running the team, “guiding, advising and problem solving” – an area where Rebecca feels she excels. Alison and her team, which totals four nursing staff, see an average of 40 to 50 patients a day. Crucially, they are “not task focused but encouraged to deliver holistic care”, which means assessing the wider needs of the patient rather than simply ticking them off a list and moving on.

“It’s not about changing the dressing or giving the injection and getting out as quickly as possible,” she explained. “That’s not good nursing.

“We want our team to look at the whole picture and assess what other needs the patient may have. We can then refer the patient to another agency and co-ordinate the help they need. My aim – and the aim of all the nurses here in Tonbridge – is to make a real difference to patients’ lives.”

You can see our vacancies and apply here.

We can change lives

Caroline-KnottCaroline Knott is aspecialist bladder and bowel nurse and one of the Queen’s Nurses; the title is awarded to exemplary nurses who demonstrate their dedication to patient-centred values and continually improving healthcare practices in the community.

She also specialises in bowel control and has a background in endoscopy. She has close relationships with urogynae and colorectal consultants at an acute trust. Here, she explains why she loves her job as a bladder and bowel specialist nurse with Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust.

“It is such an incredibly rewarding role. You realise how much difference it can make to patients’ lives when you get people who come to clinic sometimes and you are the first person they tell that they have a major problem.

“As we can take direct referrals, patients can come and see us of their own accord and sometimes just taking that first step and getting some advice can be life-changing for our patients.

“The role gives me such great job satisfaction. As continence specialists, we get time with our patients. We can sit with people and do a holistic assessment, you can get to know your patient and they can get to know you.

“Sometimes, simple advice is needed, for example I had a lady who went to the toilet all the time but she was not emptying her bladder properly. She came into the clinic and I gave her some advice. She came back to me and said that she was ‘living again’ – she could now travel and do all sorts of things that she couldn’t do before.

“At other times, treatment is necessary. Every patient is different.

“I also teach bowel care to nurses and it’s great that I get to impart my enthusiasm for the role on to those nurses.’’

How a move from A&E to minor injuries has rewarded Chloe

Chloe Hope1There were times in Chloe Hope’s former life as an A&E sister when she could barely remember being at home between shifts.

‘I was travelling from the Isle of Sheppey to Medway Maritime Hospital for a 12-hour shift, which often turned into 13 by the time we had finished the handover,” she recalled.

“On occasions we were rostered for three consecutive days and by the time I had driven home and got to bed it was time to get up and get in the car to face the traffic and head back to work. Sometimes I couldn’t remember anything between shifts.”

Chloe loved her job, the challenge and her colleagues at Medway, but with two small children she knew it was time for a change of pace and lifestyle while still pursuing her chosen career.

In September 2015, she successfully applied to Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust for a job as a nurse practitioner at the minor injury unit attached to Sheppey Community Hospital, just a five-minute walk from her home.

She now splits her time between the Sheppey base and Sittingbourne Memorial Hospital – and while she still does 12-hour shifts, life is a whole lot easier.

She estimates that she is £200 a month better off in parking fees and petrol alone, and surprised herself when calculating how much more time she can now spend with her family. “It must be close to 50 hours a month,” she commented.

The busy A&E unit at Medway Maritime was the first posting for Chloe, now 29. After qualifying in 2009, she spent four years as a staff nurse before being promoted to sister just after having daughter Darcie, now four.

Darcie was followed by Niall, now two, but her work pattern was such that Chloe struggled to spend much time with the children or with husband Ryan. Working permanent weekend shifts and often having to go in to the department when she was officially on a day off because of her additional responsibilities as a sister didn’t help, either.

“I liked the variety of the work and it was a great team, but the pressure of A&E and the long hours and the driving were beginning to take their toll, and so I started to look closer to home. I had spent time on a placement at the minor injuries unit while training and it’s just down the road from me, so I was thrilled when I was offered the job.

“Looking back, I don’t know how I coped with the hours and the stress of A&E, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. I guess it was just adrenaline, but it certainly gave me a lot of valuable experience.”

Chloe, who said her new colleagues had been very welcoming, now deals with minor injuries, such as broken bones, wounds and soft tissue damage and loves having a bit more time to spend with patients.

“It’s also more rewarding because we see the whole process from start to finish and can even call patients back for review,” she said. “What’s particularly rewarding is that we see, diagnose and discharge – or refer if necessary. We work as independent practitioners as our minor injury units are nurse-led and that’s very different to life in A&E.”

Chloe and one other nurse practitioner are supported by one healthcare assistant (HCA) at the Sheppey unit, while Sittingbourne Memorial Hospital – just a 15-minute drive away – has three nurse practitioners and an HCA.

“I also like the fact that we get to see a broad range of patients, both adults and children – but I especially like the fact that I get to see a bit more of my own children and can spend weekends with the family.”

Chloe, who stressed that she has “always loved nursing”, said her move to community nursing had been “a great decision” that allowed her to spend more time caring for people as well as more time with her own family.

“The transition from the Medway trust to Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust could not have been easier,” she added. “The HR team was really helpful and the whole process was a lot smoother than I expected.”

Eager to continue to develop her career still further, Chloe is looking forward to taking advantage of the wealth of training opportunities provided by the trust as well as the university courses on offer. “The trust encourages staff to learn new skills and the booking system for courses is very straightforward,” she said.

From healthcare assistant to ward sister- Debrah's love for Faversham

Debrah-PhythianIt’s not uncommon to hear someone claim that being made redundant was the best thing that could have happened to them, but in Debrah Phythian’s case it would be impossible to argue otherwise.

At the age of 37 Debrah found herself out of work when a fruit packing facility in Faversham closed in 1999. With a new millennium on the horizon, she decided it was time to set out in a completely new direction.

Armed only with an interest in medicine and a few years’ experience as a work first aider, Debrah responded to an advertisement for a healthcare assistant (HCA) and found herself working at Faversham Cottage Hospital.

Seventeen years later, Debrah is still working at the same hospital, but her place of work is the only thing that has stayed the same. Following a series of promotions she is now ward sister – and with no matron on the scene, that puts her at the top of the pecking order.

Not that Debrah would dream of pecking any of her 43 staff. “The reason I am still here is that this is such a friendly and supportive environment,” she explained. “I have a great team which works together, not just for the benefit of the patients but to support the whole of the workforce.”

Nursing, and the role of the cottage hospital, has changed significantly over the past 17 years, but the team spirit has remained strong and has helped not just Debrah but other members of staff through a number of personal setbacks.

The patients have benefited, too. “I think the care we provide has improved across the NHS,” she said, pointing out that when she first worked in Faversham the hospital had 10 continuing care beds for long stay patients who would these days be treated in the comfort of their own homes.

“The organisational set up behind the service has changed on several occasions but the day-to-day service has continued to get better. As just one example, pressure sores used to be a big problem but now they are very rare.

“In general we are providing a higher standard of care while supporting people to stay living in their own homes and that has to be a good thing.”

The cottage hospital mainly provides rehabilitation for patients who have been discharged from acute care, together with end of life care, something Debrah feels her team delivers particularly well.

Debrah, happily married to Steve for 35 years and the mother of three children, is the first to admit that when she turned up for work on her first day as an HCA she didn’t expect to be in charge just 17 years later.

“My ambition was to be the best HCA I could be, but I certainly didn’t come here with the aim of running the place,” she confirmed. “Looking back, being made redundant was a lucky break for me.”

Debrah was always keen to learn new skills and help the qualified nurses, and her second break came in 2001, when she was one of a handful of HCAs given the opportunity of a secondment to Canterbury Christ Church University, where they studied for their nursing diploma.

“What was interesting is that we trialled a two-and-a-half-year course rather than the full three years because the powers that be back then felt that we already had basic biology and anatomy skills,” Debrah recalled. “In the event it made it a bit challenging and that idea was quickly dropped.”

She emerged as a registered nurse in 2004 and went ‘back home’ to Faversham, where she became a staff nurse. Six years later she was promoted again, this time to the post of clinical sister, a role she particularly enjoyed because it still had an element of hands-on nursing care.

“I love what I do now and I enjoy the responsibility, but the clinical sister post gave me more time with patients,” Debrah explained. “As ward sister I have different challenges but I do sometimes miss the hands-on side of things.”

Her new post puts her in charge of the 25 beds at Faversham, together with a team that includes physiotherapists and occupational physiotherapists. She gets “excellent support” from Operational Manager Sue Picot, but since she covers Herne Bay, Faversham, Whitstable and Deal, for the most part the decisions are Debrah’s.

Those decisions reflect the fact that Debrah has, quite literally, worked at every level in the hospital. “When I am asking my newest HCA to do something, I can empathise with them because that’s where I started,” she explained. “I think it’s helped to bond the team, which is very supportive.

“I still help and advise with clinical issues but generally I let the team get on with their jobs and focus on the administrative tasks that now have to be done. Faversham still feels like home to me and I’m certain it always will.”

There is an art to being a good nurse in the community

Rebecca-LeeThere is an art to good nursing, but it’s not the art Rebecca Lee had in mind when she signed up for her degree course at Canterbury Christ Church University.

Rebecca studied art and psychology with a view to becoming an art therapist, working in prisons and with those suffering from mental health issues to help them make progress through the medium of painting and drawing.

After qualifying in 2005, though, Rebecca had second thoughts about her chosen career. “I was worried it might be a bit of a lonely life being an artist and I started doing a few part-time jobs while I thought about it. Before long I found myself working as a carer, based in Pembury.

“Providing care in the community was a tough job, but what I really enjoyed was the contact with the patients, and so when a friend of mine, who was a paediatric nurse, told me in 2008 about a job with the Rapid Response Team in Tonbridge I decided to apply.”

Although the Rapid Response Team had clinical responsibilities that went beyond anything Rebecca had needed as a carer, the psychology element of her degree allowed her to work as a healthcare assistant (HCA) and she enjoyed learning a wide range of new skills.

“Two years after I started working as an HCA, the matron at Tonbridge, Rona Dury, offered me a secondment so that I could train as a nurse and be paid at the same time,” she recalled. “It was an absolutely great opportunity for me and I have never looked back.”

Rebecca spent three years at the University of Greenwich, supported by the team at Darent Valley Hospital, and emerged in 2013 with a Diploma in Adult Nursing. She worked in Dartford and Swanley and then Sevenoaks before moving to her current post with the community nursing team based at Tonbridge Cottage Hospital.

And while she studied art at university with the aim of helping people in some way, it is only since becoming a nurse that the picture has become clear.

“I really enjoy the challenge, I love going out to see patients and I find it really rewarding when I make a difference to their lives,” she said. “I enjoy knowing that the work we do means people are able to stay living in their own homes. Being in familiar surroundings, sleeping in their own beds all makes a big difference to people’s wellbeing and it is only because of the support we provide that they are able to do that.

“No-one wants to be stuck in a hospital if they can help it, and with pressure on beds it’s a better solution all round.”

The Tonbridge team deals with everything from wounds, injections and end of life care to chest drains, IV antibiotics, chemotherapy and blood tests – with every day bringing something different.

“Working with the Rapid Response Team has helped me to think ‘outside the box’ and try to get the bigger picture,” Rebecca commented. “I like getting to grips with the whole story when we take on a new patient and making sure we do everything we can to help them.

“Just as an example, if a patient tells us that they have fallen over we need to see if there is an underlying cause rather than just patching them up and checking for trip hazards. I really enjoy that kind of challenge.

“We have a regularly changing caseload and we start off with a name and address and a few basic bits of information. From that point on it’s up to us to find out what help the patient needs and then make sure they get it.

“On a ward there is a whole team of nurses and doctors on hand; in the community there is great back-up from the team on the end of the phone, but when you are with the patient it’s your judgment that counts.”

Rebecca enjoys learning from the experience of working with the Tonbridge team but she is keen to continue to progress and thinking about future courses and challenges. “At the end of the day it’s about making myself more useful,” she summed up.

You can see our vacancies and apply here.

I couldn’t wait to qualify; there is never an average day

Tracey-Rose-imageWorking as a PA in privately owned care company and assisting with the set-up of a supported living scheme for people with learning disabilities, gave Tracey Rose the inspiration to change her career. Here she tells us why she loves being a community learning disability nurse…

“Wow! What can I say? I have to pinch myself every time I introduce myself as a learning disability nurse and even more so when one of my patients says ‘here is my nurse’ with a beaming smile. It is such a rewarding career.

“Learning disabilities nurses work directly with people who have learning disabilities. My aim is for the people I care for to be happy and remain as independent as possible while having the opportunity to be inclusive members of their communities. And because of this I enjoy a huge sense of achievement.

“I always wanted to follow this discipline of nursing. The people I care for make my job extremely enjoyable because everyone is different; there’s never a boring day. But I am regularly asked, “what do you do?”, “are you a real nurse?” and “is it real nursing?” To which I reply, “of course it is!”.

“As a student I loved every day of my studies and I couldn’t wait to qualify. I was lucky enough to be offered a role with Kent Community Health NHS Trust. The team I joined includes care managers, dieticians, physiotherapists, nurses, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists. We’re all there for the purpose of improving the lives of people with learning disabilities.

“There’s never an average day. I could also be organising a healthy living group or I could be visiting individuals, their families or carers, at home, in work places or health centres. These assessments help me develop a picture of the person’s needs so a care plan can be developed to help them live independently and healthily.

“My role means working with other healthcare professionals too to make sure the health needs of people with learning disabilities are being met and adjustments are being made to help them attend other clinics.

“I offer training to doctors and other nurses too. It’s important that we all communicate with each other to make sure the person’s needs are met and they can make their own choices about their care.

“As a learning disabilities nurse I have a responsibility to support my patients to uphold their rights, even though at times this can be difficult.  I have to be assertive and resilient in order to stand my ground as an advocate for the people I care for.

“It’s important that people with learning disabilities and their families and carers, feel valued and listened to. If I can help people think about their own health needs and ways in which they can improve them and their lives, then I know I’ve done my job well.’’

Keeping staff motivated, patients well cared for and resources used to best effect is key

Anita DunnJust a few months after returning to work at the end of a secondment that saw her qualify as a fully fledged district nurse, Anita Dunn was being asked to sign up for another training opportunity.

“Within weeks of finishing my district nurse specialist practitioner course in January 2016, I was encouraged to enrol on a clinical leadership course,” she explained.

“It highlights the importance that the foundation trust places on training – as well as on leadership, which really is the best way to make sure that we keep staff motivated, patients well cared for and resources used to best effect.”

Anita, who heads up the Community Nursing Team based at Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust’s premises at St Augustine’s in Westgate, is understandably proud of what she achieved during her year-long secondment to the University of Greenwich.

“I was the oldest person on the course, celebrating my 50th birthday during the year, but I managed to come away with a First Class degree,” she revealed.

The qualification means that while the public generally tend to refer to all community nurses as the ‘district nurse’, Anita can use the title in its true sense.

As clinical lead nurse, she is now in charge of a team of community nurses, one other district nurse, two healthcare assistants and an associate practitioner who together look after patients in central Margate and Garlinge.

“We cover the normal range of support, including wound care, blood tests and support with ‘peg’ feeding tubes, but we also focus on end of life care, which is something I believe is one of our strengths and something we need to shout about,” said Anita.

“Most people would much rather die at home than in hospital and we provide an excellent service, working with specialists and charities, such as Marie Curie, as well as linking up with local hospices. We can provide 24-hour nursing care that allows people to die with dignity at home.

“When it comes to caring for someone at the end of their life, we only get one chance at it, so we put a great deal of work into getting it right, and I believe it’s a real strength of this team.”

Although her degree success is recent, Anita has been a nurse for more than 30 years, after growing up knowing that caring for people was what she wanted to do with her life.

At the age of 18, she trained at the East Kent Hospitals School of Nursing in Dover – long since replaced by a block of flats – leaving in 1985 as an enrolled nurse and becoming a registered general nurse six years later.

After working “in virtually every hospital across east Kent”, Anita joined Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, working the night shift while her children grew up and then becoming team leader on a combined evening/night shift.

In October 2014, she “took the plunge and started working days”, after first conquering her fear that she wouldn’t be able to get up in the mornings after spending so long on nights.

As it happened, the self-confessed ‘night bird’ took to her new job more like a duck to water and the switch soon gave her a renewed determination to progress in her career.

With the full support of the trust, which seconded her to the course and funded her studies, Anita enrolled at the University of Greenwich, qualified with flying colours and was immediately asked to head up the Margate team.

After so many years she has seen lots of changes in nursing and is most aware of the broader scope of the work – “we weren’t allowed to do anything as advanced as blood tests when I started,” she recalled – and of the way patients are now much more involved in decisions about their care.

“We are now much more actively involved in giving patients more control and giving them the knowledge they need to help themselves,” she said. “We also work hard to help them stay living in the comfort of their own homes whenever possible.”

Anita believes nurses now have far more responsibility and are no longer expected to accept that “the doctor knows best”. She added: “Patients are far more aware, too, particularly with the amount of information there is online, so it is much more about sharing knowledge.

“I believe I have learned something new every day of my career. I have never stopped developing new skills and the trust has supported this growth at every stage.”

One of Anita’s specialist skills is in wound management, and she is a fully trained tissue viability link nurse. She has also put her recent degree studies to good use by continuing her college work in ‘real life’.

“For my dissertation I looked at the Waterlow scale for assessing pressure ulcer risks,” she explained. “I felt it was past its sell-by date and more complex than it needed to be in some areas. Because I had already done so much research, the trust has now asked me to lead trials of PURPOSE T, a possible replacement for Waterlow. I will be reporting back on my findings soon.”

Our pharmacists

Helping patients to take control

Natasha EasthopeRemembering to take medication at the right times – and get the dose right – can be a chore, even for people who are only taking one or two prescribed drugs.

For one of Natasha Easthope’s patients, that chore became a nightmare, as well as posing a distinct risk to the patient’s health.

“He was a young man in his early 30s, but because of his complex medical needs he was on 27 different medications and was really struggling to cope,” she recalled.

“Apart from the fact that he spent all day taking medication and worrying about getting it wrong, there was a real danger that he would forget to take something important or accidentally overdose himself.”

As a registered pharmacy technician, Natasha’s role with Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust is to help people take their medication properly and so she quickly looked at what she could do.

“It occurred to me that because his medications had been prescribed over a number of years there might be some duplication, and so I went to his clinicians and asked them to review the drugs he was on,” she explained.

“As a result the doctors were able to streamline his medications to just 15 – virtually half what he had been on – which made things simpler.

“I then arranged for his drugs to be sorted into a dosette box so that all he had to do was open the right compartment at the right time and take the medication. It made his life much easier and safer.”

Registered pharmacy technicians are playing an increasingly important role in allowing patients to lead more independent lives by helping them take control. They are encouraged to come up with creative ways of solving problems, working closely with patients as part of a multi-disciplinary team.

“We support patients and help them stay compliant with their medications,” Natasha explained. “We work under the supervision of a pharmacist and refer medical issues back to a GP or other clinician, but we take the lead in helping patients look after themselves properly.

“We go beyond the kind of routine work that pharmacy technicians would normally do in a hospital or pharmacy, working directly with patients and making a difference to their lives.”

In the case of the patient whose medications she helped to streamline, Natasha made a clear difference. “He wrote to say the changes had transformed his life and he went on to have the kidney transplant he needed, so what the team did clearly worked.”

Pharmacy technicians help patients stay out of hospital and avoid nursing staff having to visit patients to administer medicines. “Once we are happy that the patient knows what he or she is doing and is confident with it, we don’t go back unless there is a problem,” Natasha explained. “It’s rewarding to know that we are helping people stay independent and safe while preventing wastage and saving money.

“Patients may be elderly, have poor eyesight or live on their own – or with someone who is not confident about supporting them. Each of them has different needs and it is down to the technician to come up with the best way of helping them self medicate – perhaps simply by teaching them good inhaler technique.

“No two days are the same because we are always taking on new patients and meeting their individual needs.”

Their community-facing role means pharmacy technicians have to use their judgment in some difficult situations. “I found one elderly lady on her own in an unheated house. Not only was she not taking her medication properly, but she was underweight and clearly not coping,” said Natasha. “I called her doctor and she was admitted to hospital before being discharged to residential care.”

New Zealand-born Natasha trained as a ballet dancer until arthritis put a stop to her chosen career. After travelling and doing a variety of jobs she began working in a pharmacy and achieved NVQ levels two and three to become a registered technician.

She joined the trust’s medicine support service – part of medicines management – three years ago and won a customer care award while working as a long-term locum.

For the past nine months, the 49-year-old has been leading a pilot scheme aimed at helping patients newly diagnosed with diabetes administer their own insulin at home safely.

“The clinical lead pharmacist for Dartford, Gravesham, Swanley and Swale, noticed that there were a number of cases of insulin patients missing doses or getting their dosage wrong,” she explained.

“With nursing staff already tackling big caseloads, I was asked to trial a self-administration scheme with a view to registered pharmacy technicians taking on responsibility for helping insulin patients become more compliant.

“I have also been training carers, working with matrons and nurses and providing information and support in areas such as podiatry and ‘carb counting’.

“One patient with poor eyesight was being visited three times a day by a nurse who administered his insulin. Apart from the cost and resourcing issues, it meant he could hardly leave the house.

“I helped get him a special magnifying glass and a talking glucometer so that he can look after himself, which has changed his life and saved the NHS money.”

She believes, though, that the broadening workload of registered pharmacy technicians is a sign of the times. “I think there is a huge future for people like us to learn new skills and help patients in different ways – perhaps by checking blood pressure and even taking bloods.”

Our return to work programme

“Best career decision I have made…’’ Rapid response beckons former theatre nurse

Bobby-CoeIt was purely by chance that community nurse Bobby Coe found herself working in the Rapid Response Team based at the Coxheath Clinic just outside Maidstone, but a few months down the line she wouldn’t dream of changing jobs.

By the time Bobby signed up for Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust’s return to practice course, the choice of training places was limited, which is how she found herself at Coxheath.

Now qualified and looking after her own patients across a wide area, Bobby has found the role a challenging one – and she loves it.

“The other students I trained with have moved into community nursing, but I just love the variety and the challenge that comes with being part of the Rapid Response Team,” said the 50 year-old former theatre nurse.

“Patients are referred by a number of routes, from district nurses to ambulance crews and on-call doctors, and it is down to us to make the right decisions about their care and then deliver that care. It’s full on and demanding, but very rewarding.”

The aim of the Rapid Response Team is to keep patients out of hospital, which both reduces pressure on NHS beds and is generally better for the individual, who can be cared for in the comfort of his or her own home.

As well as helping to keep patients out of hospital, Bobby and the other rapid response nurses also help those who have been discharged but still need extra care during their first few days at home.

While it’s a fast-paced and high-pressure role, Bobby is quick to point out that she is not alone. “We receive fantastic support from the rest of the team and there is always someone to ask if you need a second opinion or some advice,” she said.

Bobby trained and worked in Medway Hospital between 2001 and 2010 and for the last three years of her service was a staff nurse working in operating theatres.

She stopped work to care for her daughter Halle, who had been born in 2009, because the shift patterns didn’t suit motherhood and her family came first. Still keen to keep busy, she did voluntary work with Victim Support, and might have carried on with that organisation if fate had not intervened.

“At the end of 2014, with Halle now at school, I was about to apply for a paid post at Victim Support when I happened to hear an advertisement on the radio for the return to practice scheme,” she recalled.

“`I had let my registration lapse because I didn’t think I would be able to go back to the old shift patterns, but community nursing appealed to me and so I went for an interview and was accepted for the course.

“I began working as healthcare assistant (HCA) for three days a week, with the other two days spent training, backed up by one day a fortnight at Canterbury Christ Church University, where we brushed up on legislation and current practices.”

Bobby began working as an HCA in February 2015 and started her day release studies in April, finishing the course in July. “It was tough to study, work and look after a family at the same time, and at times I found it stressful, but I knew it was only for three months and I was determined to complete the course,” she said. “You just have to be very organised, but it is worthwhile.”

The course completed, Bobby still had to wait from July until November to get her registration ‘PIN’, and she admits to having a few doubts during that time. “I was keen to get out there, but at the same time I was a bit hesitant,” she recalled. “It made me realise that I was going to be accountable.”

Once out in the field, though, the fears disappeared, not least because Bobby knew there was plenty of support back at base – and as one of half a dozen rapid response nurses covering a far-flung 550 square miles there isn’t too much time to brood.

“I love it,” she said. “This is a fantastic service and I am proud to be a part of it. Deciding to sign up for return to practice was the best career decision I have made for a long time.

“What I particularly enjoy is the interaction you get from the patients. Coming away knowing that you have made a difference to someone’s life makes you feel fantastic.”

The qualities that make a good nurse haven’t changed

Clive-Laker-2An inspirational visit from the then chief executive of Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust on the day Clive Laker started in his new role reassured him that he was moving to an organisation he could be proud to work for.

“Those who were new to the trust gathered on our first day back in February 2015. To my surprise, Marion Dinwoodie, who was at that time the chief executive, came in and personally welcomed us to the trust,” the 56 year-old former pastor recalled.

“I was really inspired by the idea that someone with her responsibilities could find the time to come and talk to us, and that concern for the team is something that has continued to impress me.”

As one of the first candidates to join the return to practice course in the west of Kent, Clive completed his training in August 2015 and has already received his registration PIN as a staff nurse.

He started with the Rapid Response Team based at Coxheath but has since transferred to community nursing, where he is part of the team caring for patients in Aylesford, Burham, Eccles and Wouldham.

In some ways, his new role resembles the job he used to do as Vicar of St George’s Church in Tolworth, although the visits to patients are more focused than those he used to make to parishioners.

“I have never lost the feeling that it is a privilege to be invited into somebody’s home, though,” he explained. “Clearly we don’t have limitless time to spend with patients, but I like to get to know them and I am very aware that sometimes I am the only person they see all day.’’

Like all community staff nurses, Clive deals with patients with diabetes, wounds, and incontinence and those in need of post-operative care. He also helps provide end-of-life care, something he is particularly interested in.

But whatever that day’s tasks are, he is clear about one thing. “I love what I am doing,” he said. “I like to get out and about, meeting people, helping them and facing new challenges.”

Married to Carol, and with five children aged between 19 and 29, Clive is now setting himself new challenges and is signed up for study days to learn more about giving intravenous drugs, using syringe drivers and dealing with lower leg conditions.

He trained at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington in 1979 and worked in urology before spending six years in nurse education. He left in 1994 and was a lay pastor before being ordained, serving the church until Christmas Day 2012.

“After a bit of a break I was wondering what to do with the next stage of my life and had a look at a jobs website with a view to doing some part-time work,” he recalled. “That was when I saw the advertisement for the return to practice course with the trust. I feel I have never looked back.”

Clive began working as a healthcare assistant in March 2015, began his Return to Practice studies at Canterbury Christ Church University in April and completed the course in August.

After being out for 20 years, he was not surprised to learn that much has changed, with new dressings and methodologies just part of the new nursing landscape, but he said one thing had remained constant. “The qualities that make a good nurse haven’t changed.”

Clive is keen to see more people follow him back into community nursing because he can see the benefits it has for the health service. “With the pressure on hospital beds, and the costs involved, it makes sense to discharge patients earlier alongside managing complex needs within the community, as long as both can be done safely,” he commented.

“For that to happen – with benefits for the patients as well as the NHS – we need more people qualified to look after them in the community. It’s a rewarding job and it makes a real difference. I’m delighted to have made the change.”

Lucy is doing the best possible job for her patients

Lucy-WorthingtonWhen a family move brought Lucy Worthington to Kent, it also put a halt to her fledgling nursing career.

“We moved here from Milton Keynes in 2006, just two years after I qualified as a nurse, but as there were no NHS jobs on offer at the time I had no choice but to leave the profession,” she explained.

Although she quickly began working as a personal assistant, Lucy always considered her nursing career to be “unfinished business” and was determined to return to it when the opportunity arose.

“I kept my hand in as much as I could,” she recalled. “As well as working as a PA in Ashford, I helped in a residential unit for children with learning difficulties and I cared for a lady with a head injury, but what I really wanted was a chance to get back full time to the job I loved.”

That chance came when, after working for six years as a night carer in a residential home, Lucy heard an advertisement for Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust’s return to practice recruitment campaign.

“It felt like now or never,” she said. “I knew I was not done with nursing and so I applied for a place on the course – and I’m really glad I did.”

The return to practice scheme, designed to encourage skilled staff back into nursing, involves working independently as a healthcare assistant (HCA) three days a week and spending the other two days either studying or working as a community nurse alongside a mentor.

“It is very similar to an apprenticeship, which is fantastic because it means you have a job at the same time as learning the skills you need. I found it a really positive experience,” Lucy said.

She joined the scheme in March 2015, working as an HCA alongside the adult community nursing team based in Trinity House, Ashford.

The team supports GP practices in Ashford and Charing and generally helps housebound patients with long-term conditions, dealing with wounds and pressure areas, as well as carrying out blood tests and insulin injections.

Lucy’s course at Canterbury Christ Church University started in September, which meant she had time to adjust to her new role before studying topics, such as medication management, moving and handling, basic life support, communication skills, accountability and team working.

With the course now completed, Lucy, now 42, is expecting to receive her NHS PIN number in April, when she will once again be a fully registered nurse.

“It will be a challenge to be out on my own, making all the decisions, but it is a challenge I am looking forward to and I feel very supported by the rest of the team,” she said.

“They have been very welcoming and they understand what I want to achieve by relaunching my nursing career. I really enjoy having contact with patients and I love feeling that I have made a difference.

“Community nursing is very different to the job I was doing back in 2006, when I was working in day surgery at Milton Keynes Hospital, and I like having a little more time to make sure I have done the best possible job for my patients.”

Lucy enjoyed the academic challenge of attending the university course but said it highlighted a need to be organised when juggling work, family and learning. She now wants to “give something back” by learning how to be a mentor to future return to practice candidates.

“The course has rekindled my old ambitions,” she said. “I’ve got my career back and now I want to make the most of the opportunities in front of me. I would recommend this course without a doubt to anyone who wants to get back to nursing.”

Find out more how you can return to practice here.

Globe-trotting Phil returned to the UK and returned to practice

Phil-ColeAfter using his nursing skills as the launchpad for a globe-hopping adventure, Phil Cole came back to the UK with an eye on retirement.

He returned from Australia with new wife Anita, settled in Folkestone and prepared to take it easy, but it proved to be a step too far.

Soon tired of his new life, Phil started to look for a new challenge – and found it via an NHS website.

“Retirement just didn’t suit me, and I was looking for part-time jobs when I spotted Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust’s return to practice programme and decided it was just what I needed,” said Phil, 57.

As a return to practice trainee, Phil has been working as a healthcare assistant (HCA) with the community care team based at Hersden, near Canterbury, for three days a week and spending the other two days either studying or working alongside his mentor Emma Betts.

With his final coursework now handed in to Canterbury Christ Church University, he is looking forward to stepping up to a full time community nursing role in April when he hopes to receive his coveted NHS PIN.

After training as a nurse in the late seventies at the Brook Hospital in Woolwich, working in intensive care, Phil used his nursing skills “as a ticket to see a bit of the world”, working in Germany and Saudi Arabia before spending a year back in England and then leaving for Sydney, Australia, in 1986.

In 1989, three years into a 10-year spell at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, Phil enrolled at the James Cook University in Queensland and emerged with a first class honours degree in history. A scholarship led to a doctorate and he stayed on as a full-time lecturer, allowing his nursing registration to lapse.

In 2000, another career change saw him working for the Australian government as a learning consultant in the taxation department before the move back to Folkestone in 2014 with his UK-born wife Anita.

As an HCA, Phil sees about 10 patients in an average day, helping them with dressings and injections and following the care plans laid out for them. The team covers the whole of the Greater Canterbury area.

“What I like is that people are so pleased to see me,” he said. “They appreciate what we do for them and it’s good to think that you have made a difference.

“Its hard work at times and it will get harder when I am out there as a nurse rather than as an HCA but I am really looking forward to the challenge. Nursing has changed over the years, with more of a focus on wellbeing and on health and safety.

“I certainly believe more thought goes into nursing now and I am proud that I will soon be playing a bigger part in the way the foundation trust cares for people in the community.”

Phil praised the support of his staff nurse mentor Emma, as well as the rest of the team. “I always know that my team leader is just a phone call away,” he said.

He also pointed out that the return to practice scheme made it easy for people who wanted to get back into nursing but who otherwise would not be able to afford to retrain, adding: “I certainly couldn’t have done this in Australia because of the costs involved.”

As well as being provided with a job as an HCA while training – and having their university course fees paid – the students at Christ Church each received a £500 bursary to help with books and other costs.

Find out more how you can return to practice here.

Return to practice is great for nursing

Sally-VivashLife wasn’t all rosy for Sally Vivash when she took the plunge and returned to nursing after a 16-year absence, but the support of her “amazing” mentor Claire Dennis was certainly one of the positives.

“There were times when it was a real challenge juggling life as a student and parent, as well as working as a healthcare assistant (HCA) in a busy and at times under-staffed nursing team, but I’m glad I stuck at it despite the difficulties – and Claire really was fantastic,” said the 52-year-old.

All the students on the Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust’s return to practice (RTP) course are assigned a mentor to provide support throughout their course.

The returners work as an HCA for three days a week and spend one day working as a student nurse under supervision. The fifth day is spent at Canterbury Christ Church University one week and on private study the next.

One other positive aspect of the RTP scheme mentioned by Sally and her fellow students was the support they received while working hard to achieve re-registration. As well as being provided with a job while training – and having their university course fees paid – the students each received a £500 bursary to help with books and other costs, something they all welcomed.

“Not having to worry about the costs involved is a huge bonus when you are helping to support a family and retrain at the same time,” Sally said. “Most people simply would not be able to put themselves through the course independently, particularly without the guarantee of a job at the end of it.”

After being out of nursing for 16 years and working on a zero hours contract for a care agency, Sally rejoined the NHS in 2014, spending 30 hours a week as an HCA on a busy medical ward at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate.

“I wanted to get back into the nursing environment but without the stress, which is why I became an HCA, but while at the QEQM I was offered the chance to take the RTP route into community nursing,” she explained. “I didn’t need asking twice.”

After working for seven months at the hospital, Sally moved to Birchington Medical Centre to join a team of community nurses looking after people in a wide area including Minster, Sarre, Cliffsend and Westgate – and she is delighted to have made the switch.

“RTP gives people like me a great opportunity to return to nursing because it is sponsored by the trust, you are given a position and the bursary is a bonus.

Sally’s advice to anyone thinking of following her example was straightforward. “Make sure you have thought it through and that you really want to do it – and don’t take on anything else at the same time – it takes real focus.”

That focus was helped by the broad range of knowledge her fellow students were happy to share. “One of the great things about getting together with the other people on the course was that they had such a huge amount of experience we could all benefit from,” she commented.

“The NHS needs that experience – and that’s why return to practice is such a good idea.”

Find out more how you can return to practice here.

Our senior team

Why 'ask Jummy' is so important ...

Jummy Dawodu smallJummy Dawodu’s role as assistant director of public health services for children and young people across Kent and school health in East Sussex naturally comes with an office befitting the role – but she doesn’t see much of it.

The livewire 52 year-old admits she spends far less time at her Gravesend base than she does in her car, travelling across the whole of the Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust patch to engage with staff at every opportunity.

Even when she is back in the office, Jummy’s priority is the people who are turning her vision of a consistently high-quality service into a reality.

“I take communication with staff very seriously, which is why I introduced a dedicated ‘ask Jummy’ email address,” she explained. “The email is there so that people can get in touch about anything that concerns them – and they do.”

Jummy’s role means she is responsible for a range of issues including school health services, immunisation, sexual health, the family nurse partnership and health visitors.

She’s not sure how many people she is responsible for, but the miles she clocks up criss-crossing the county to oversee her patch allows her to make contact with many more people than would fit into her office.

“My role is to set the strategic direction for the service and to make sure that the staff can follow that direction,” she said. “That means making sure they have the tools, the skills and the resources to help us deliver the level of service we expect them to deliver.”

Jummy, who took on her current role in October 2015 after moving to Kent from Guys and St Thomas’, sees herself as an advocate for staff, but while she likes to be supportive she also has a clear idea of what she expects them to achieve with the resources available to them.

“We have to focus on our core business,” she explained. “Sometimes people get distracted and need to be redirected back into doing the job within the agreed boundaries. I want to make sure every contact with every client counts and I want us to learn from our mistakes.”

Jummy was born in the UK but trained as an adult nurse at University College Hospital in her parents’ home country of Nigeria. After qualifying in 1984 her parents sent her back to the UK for a holiday – and she stayed, working in adult nursing and quickly gaining extra qualifications in areas such as trauma, orthopaedics and critical care.

She became a night sister at Westminster Hospital in 1989 and four years later was awarded her BSc in community health, a dual qualification which also made her a registered health visitor

At this stage the ambitious health professional decided that she wanted to be less client-facing and more strategic in her future career and realised that she needed to brush up her management skills, achieving that particular goal by collecting a Masters in Health Management from City University.

Jummy then realised that her remaining skills gap was in primary care, so she became director of operations for Bromley Primary Care Group to gain the experience she needed.

After taking on a variety of other new challenges, Jummy was asked by Guys and St Thomas’ to spend six weeks ‘turning around’ their school nursing and health visiting teams, but became so committed to the cause that she was there for three years before applying for the Kent job.

“This is a different geography but the challenges are much the same,” she said. “It’s about improving communications, managing big teams effectively, giving people the guidance they need to do things the right way, streamlining services, being consistent and promoting a shared vision.

“Staff need to know what they are there to do, they need to be given clear guidelines about how it needs to be done and they need the tools and the support to be able to get on with it.”

Jummy believes the trust is clear about its role despite the external changes that have taken place in the health service and she is confident that her team can deliver great services.

“I care desperately about things being done well and I want to make sure the trust is a happy environment in which to work,” she said. “I have learned my craft over many years and I continue to learn new things every day. I want to share that with the staff who are delivering services to our children and young people.”

Jummy, whose husband Ayodele is a clergyman, believes one of the biggest issues facing young people today is ‘emotional resilience’ as they face the stresses of growing up in the 21st century.

“Issues like bullying have always been with us, but there are added pressures now, thanks to social media and new phenomena such as ‘sexting’,” she explained.

“Risk taking, relationships, exams, needing to please their parents, keeping to a healthy weight – all of these things add to the pressures on our youngsters and keep the team busy providing the support they need to become healthy adults.”

In the competitive world of healthcare, Jummy believes that the biggest challenge facing Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust is to be able to grow steadily,to remain competitive, but to continue to focus on delivering the best possible service. “We mustn’t become stretched too thinly,” she warned.

Our staff bank

Snapping up a good opportunity

Joseph Johny2Setting up a new business is a risky venture, particularly if it means leaving full-time employment to start up a company that may take many months to become established.

Photographer Joseph Johny reduced his risk by joining Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust’s bank team, where he is able to work enough hours to give himself a reasonable income while also devoting time to the new business.

When Joseph decided to set up Ezzente with three photographer friends, he knew it would take time before the business would be successful enough to support the team full time.

“I was committed to the new business but I needed to earn some money while we were getting it off the ground, and so joining the bank was ideal for me,” he explained. “It is a really flexible set up which allows me to work three or four days a week but take time off to fulfil photography bookings when I need to.”

Joseph works as a booking clerk in the Administration Bank, based at Gravesham Community Hospital, and is responsible for providing staff from the Clinical Bank to fill nursing vacancies around the county.

“We take calls from teams who are short of nurses or other clinical staff and we make contact with people who have signed up to the Clinical Bank to fill as many of those vacancies as possible,” he explained.

The work Joseph and the rest of the team do is vital to the cost-effective running of the service.

But while Joseph works hard to fill the shifts he has available, he recognises that the staff on his books have signed up for the same flexibility he enjoys.

“Working for the bank puts you in control,” he explained. “There are people who want to be able to decide what hours they work and be able to take time off when they need it. Being part of the bank means that you decide when you work and you are free to turn a shift down if it doesn’t suit your circumstances.”

There are other advantages to joining of the trust’s staff banks. “The trust provides superb training opportunities which bank staff can sign up to in order to develop new skills,” he said. “It’s also important to note that staff who already work full-time for the trust can join the bank to pick up extra shifts, perhaps at a weekend.”

Joseph also believes that the trust looks favourably on hard-working and committed bank staff when full-time roles come up – if that is what the employee is looking for.

“There is lots of opportunity for the right people to progress in the trust and joining the bank can be a great way to start,” he said. “There are opportunities to learn new skills, work in different areas and gain valuable experience – all in a flexible way.”

Joseph came to the UK from Kerela in India in 2009, gained an NVQ level 4 in health and social care and worked as a health care assistant (HCA) and as an administrator in a number of care homes, most recently in Croydon.

“I decided that I wanted to move to somewhere a bit more rural, and at the same time I began to think about turning my love of photography into a business in partnership with some friends,” he said.

“I couldn’t afford to do that without any income, so I looked for a job that combined responsibility with flexible hours, and working for the trust proved to be just the thing.”

Ezzente specialises in wedding and social photography along with business promotions and birthdays. Not surprisingly Joseph is keen to support care homes with promotional shots. “I know the message they are keen to put across and I would like to provide the photographs to support that message,” he explained.

The other members of Ezzente, which include a videographer, are also trust bank staff, with has given the fledgling entrepreneurs the flexibility they need to grow at a sensible pace.

From temporary to permament for Monika

MonikaWhen Monika Kucharska left her home on the Baltic coast to travel to England, the 19 -year-old only expected to be here for a year.

“I came over after my A levels to improve my English before going back to Poland and carrying on with my studies at university,” she explained. “I didn’t expect to stay longer than 12 months, but 10 years later, here I am.”

Here – in this case – is the highly regarded Sapphire Unit attached to Gravesham Community Hospital, where Monika works as part of the Kent Community Care NHS Foundation Trust’s Staff Bank team.

Monika began working for the Staff Bank four years ago because she valued the combination of stability and flexibility it gave her, and she’s even more pleased to have now been offered a permanent job on the unit.

“I was working as a carer for a private company, but when my daughter Michalina came along I decided I wanted a job that was based in one location rather than having to drive to homes all over the place,” she recalled.

“I also wanted to work flexible hours so I could look after her, which meant that Bank work was ideal.”

Monika made such an impression while working as a member of the Staff Bank that towards the end of last year she was offered a permanent post as an associate practitioner, but the foundation trust’s flexible working policy means she is confident that she will still be able to juggle work and family.

That flexibility will be even more important this summer, when Monika and husband Emil’s second (“and last!”) baby is due to arrive – and in the meantime she can take the opportunity of booking extra Bank shifts, as well as doing her normal job.

“Staff who are working full-time can still apply for extra shifts outside their normal hours, and in my case the extra cash will help make my maternity pay go further when I have to stop working.

“As well as being a really flexible way of working for the NHS – and perhaps proving you are the ideal candidate for any full-time jobs that come up – signing up for the Bank saves the organisation a lot of money,”

Although Monika’s husband is Polish, she met him in this country and was amazed to find that he only lives 15 minutes away from her in their home country. “We started talking and when he told me where lived, I couldn’t believe it,” she recalled. “We come from a beautiful part of the country, by the sea, but we enjoy our life and our work here.”

After joining the Clinical Bank at the lowest level, Monika progressed rapidly through Band 2 before qualifying as a Band 3 rehabilitation assistant. In her new Band 4 associated practitioner role she works closely with the nursing staff and can take bloods, change dressings, set up care plans and generally help the team care for the patients.

The Sapphire Unit provides specialist neuro-rehabilitation care for patients following a stroke or brain injury or who have conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease or multiple sclerosis. “It can be challenging, but I really enjoy the work and signing up for the Clinical Bank gave me an opportunity I have tried to make the most of,” she commented.

“I am ambitious to do well, and when the children are older I am hoping that I will be able to apply to do a nursing degree and continue to develop my skills and my career.”

You can try before you buy ...

Nicola SparksWhen care agency work began costing her almost as much as she was earning, Nicola Sparks realised that something had to change.

She still enjoyed caring and she valued flexibility, but she also wanted to earn a decent wage and be in control of where and when she worked – and so she applied to join Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust’s Staff Bank.

“It was certainly the right decision for me,” said Nicola, who now works for the Bank as a healthcare assistant (HCA) at Livingstone Hospital, Dartford.

Nicola trained as a hairdresser but had always been interested in nursing, and as a single mum in need of an income she signed up six years ago with a care agency after a spell working as a support assistant.

“I moved to Shorne shortly after that and the company asked me to look after patients across such a wide area that I was spending all my time travelling – and not being paid for it – and racking up a big bill for petrol at the same time,” she recalled.

“It just wasn’t working for me. I was losing out financially and I really wanted something that was flexible but stable. I was also in a new relationship, which meant I had family commitments, too, and the Clinical Bank appealed to me as a way of keeping control while earning a living.”

After applying to the foundation trust in January last year, Nicola joined the team in April and was able to work shifts that suited her lifestyle, with Livingstone Hospital and Gravesham Community Hospital both within easy reach of home.

Not only did the Bank prove to be the answer in the short term, it has also paid off in the longer term, since Nicola has now been offered a full-time job on a higher grade. The 44-year-old is set to become a Band 3 rehabilitation assistant, a challenge she is looking forward to tackling.

“Being on the Bank team is really useful when full time jobs come up because the senior staff at the hospital know what you are capable of and you have a good idea of what the job involves,” she commented. “It’s like ‘try before you buy’ and is ideal for both parties.”

As well as helping Nicola fit her work schedule in with looking after Connor, 18, and 10 year-old Finn – and helping her find a full time job she loves – Bank work also allowed her to continue to operate her hairdressing business part-time.

“Working for the Bank meant that I could choose what shifts to take, which meant I could still offer appointments to my hairdressing clients on other days,” she explained.

“The flexibility of working with the Bank is a real bonus, and it also helps the trust save money it can use on front line services.”

Nicola has found working as an HCA rewarding, and she particularly enjoys “making a difference” when working with elderly people. “A lot of it is about giving them the confidence to do more things for themselves, particularly if they are recovering from a fall,” she said.

Her new role will offer her more opportunities to learn new skills, including taking bloods, and she is determined to take advantage of new training courses that will become available.

“As a child I always wanted to be a nurse and perhaps in a few years’ time I will go to university and do a nursing degree,” she said. “In the meantime I am grateful that joining the Bank has helped to broaden my career.”

Our therapists

The smile that makes it all worthwhile

Children-services-recruitment-image-2Working with children is rewarding, and even more so when those children rely on you to help them get the most out of life. Discover a typical day for Integrated Therapy and Care Co-ordination (ITACC) Team physiotherapists Steph Knight and Michelle Evered.

It’s 8.30am and Paediatric Physiotherapist Steph Knight has arrived at Ridegview School in Tonbridge, where she’s based. Her narrow office, stacked floor to ceiling with equipment, is next door to the therapy room, where most of her day is spent assessing children and equipment.

An important part of the way the ITACC Team works is the integrated approach it takes – physiotherapists work alongside speech and language therapists and occupational therapists, to meet all the children’s needs and the first job of the day is to catch up with colleagues in the team.

Physiotherapy Assistant Christine Sayell briefs Steph – passing on a message from the orthotics clinic about shoe splints that are ready to be delivered, and giving an update about one of the children who has undergone an operation at specialist children’s hospital the Evelina, in London.

Every day one of the team visits the children on Hedgehog ward at Pembury Hospital. Today it’s the turn of Paediatric Physiotherapist Michelle Evered; she will return to Ridgeview after her ward visit. By 10am the pupils are in their classrooms and it’s time for Steph and Christine to a pay a visit to 10-year-old Megan to check her stander and wheelchair.

Megan is brought back to the therapy room, where Steph and Christine can carry out checks on her equipment to make sure it still fits.

Steph said: “The children here are vulnerable and much of our work is dependent on their health at the time. Megan spends a lot of time in her wheelchair and it’s important that she has time standing up to stop her muscles contracting. We check the equipment every six months to make sure it’s still appropriate for the child.

“I always wanted to work with children. I see my role as making sure they have as good a life as possible.”

The next job of the day is a shoe fitting. Specialist boots are delivered to the school and Steph takes them to a pupil in her classroom to try on for size. These boots are designed to support the children’s feet and ankles into the correct the position.

Just before the pupils break for lunch, Steph and Christine visit 19-year-old Jonah. The pair use a hoist to lay him on a bench, where he will stay for 30 minutes. Jonah spends the majority of his time in a wheelchair and time on the bench helps him to breathe and relieves the pressure of constantly sitting. Steph said: “Laying on the bench gives Jonah a different perspective on the world. He will soon transfer to adult services so we are making sure his file is up to date and he is well equipped and prepared for moving on.”

After a quick lunch, and a catch-up with colleague Michelle, who has returned from the ward, Steph welcomes a rep from Smirthwaite, a specialist chair provider. The rep has bought along five different supportive chairs, and some of the pupils will be bought along to the therapy room to try out the chairs for size, style and usability. Steph said: “If a child needs a special chair, first we check the recycled stock to see if there are any available. If not we can order them. This demonstration is great because it allows us to see the different products available. Our ability to order specialist equipment really benefits the children.”

While Steph and Christine stay with Smirthwaite, Michelle has a hydrotherapy pool session booked with William. The 14-year-old, who has Downs Syndrome, recently had an operation on his back and metal rods inserted to straighten his spine. The pool session is designed to help William stretch his back and strengthen his muscles. The pair spend 30 minutes in the pool hitting and catching a ball, which makes William lift his head up, reach up with his arms and stand taller. The session is a success, and William has had so much fun he is reluctant to get out and get dressed.

Michelle said: “Every day is different in this role, and I enjoy making a difference to people’s lives. The changes can be small but they make a big difference. It’s great to see the children making progress. The pool session was great. William was reaching up and really motivated by the games we played. The water helps support him, and it is great fun for him too.”

As 3.30pm arrives, and the children start to make their way home, a silence descends on the school, and it’s a chance for Steph, Michelle and Christine to catch up on paperwork for the next couple of hours.

Steph said: “For every child we have seen today, we have paperwork to complete. And there’s lots of liaising with other health and social care professionals too. We also work with families to make sure they have the right equipment at home. It’s a good feeling to know that we can help make the children as happy and as comfortable as possible.”

Stephanie Knight

Qualification: BSc Hons Physiotherapy from the University of Brighton.

Experience: 2008 to 2012: Junior physiotherapist for adults at Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother Hospital, Margate, and East Kent Community Services, including time spent with orthopaedics, respiratory and neurology.

2012: Joined as paediatric physiotherapist in the ITACC Team based at Ridgeview School, Tonbridge.

Michelle Evered

Qualification: Project 2000 nursing course at Canterbury Christ Church University and BSc Hons Physiotherapy from University of Brighton.

Experience: Children’s nurse at Birmingham Children’s Hospital and elsewhere, before retraining to become a physiotherapist.

2005 – 2008: Physiotherapist at various hospitals, including Kent and Sussex, and Epsom.

2009: Joined Kent Community Health NHS Trust as a paediatric physiotherapist in the ITACC Team, based at Ridgeview School, Tonbridge.

Becoming a physio was a great move for me

Izzy WarrenAt a time when graduates across a range of subjects are struggling to find work of any kind, Izzy Warren walked out of university and into the job she loved.

“I finished my degree on the Friday, had an interview with the trust at 8am on the Monday and was working as a musculoskeletal physiotherapist a few weeks later,” she recalled.

It was the career Izzy had dreamed of from a young age, and two years and a promotion later she is still in love with her work.

Practising at the Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust’s Churchill Centre on the outskirts of Maidstone, the 23-year-old sees a diverse range of patients and enjoys having the flexibility to treat them in whatever way she thinks will work best.

“The GPs refer patients they think will benefit from physiotherapy, but they don’t tell us what we need to do,” she said.

“It’s down to us to assess the patient, provide the best treatment and work with them to help them recover. If necessary we can refer the patient back to the GP if we think they would benefit from different treatment, or perhaps because we feel they need an MRI scan.”

At a recent clinic, Izzy saw patients aged from five to 82. “I love the diversity of the patients we see and the different challenges we face,” she commented. “We deal with everything from back pain referrals to sports injuries and orthopaedic surgery follow-ups.”

A local girl who studied at Maidstone Girls Grammar, Izzy was inspired to become a physiotherapist by her own experiences as a child. She had several sessions to help with her own hypermobility and found the subject fascinating.

When she left school she studied physiotherapy at the University of East Anglia, outside Norwich, qualifying with a BSc in 2014. She joined the foundation trust and worked in Sevenoaks before being offered her current job in Maidstone.

“I walked out of uni and into a job, which was amazing,” she said. “The trust is always looking to recruit physiotherapists because it seems to be a growing area of work. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a rewarding job meeting and helping a variety of people with a range of needs.”

Izzy, who is looking forward to moving into her own home shortly, praised the support of the foundation trust and the wide range of training courses and career development opportunities on offer.

“There seems to be lots of chances to move on, learn new skills and progress in your career,” she said. “The trust has a very flexible approach and there are plenty of opportunities for anyone who is keen to take them.”

At the moment Izzy is building on her knowledge and gaining experience, but she is also keen to move on in her career and has been inspired by working alongside several of the trust’s extended scope practitioners (ESPs), who are qualified to deliver a broader range of treatments.

“That is certainly a route I am interested in following,” she said. “There is a lot of in-service training available within the trust and I feel valued and supported, so I am sure I will be able to progress within the organisation. Becoming a physio was certainly a great move for me.”

Physiotherapy: A real eye-opener on the perfect career path

Emily JohnsonIt takes hard work and dedication to complete a degree course in order to embark on a career – but considerably more to do it all twice.

When Emily Johnson enrolled for a degree in fitness science she thought it would help her become a physiotherapist, but when she qualified in 2004 she quickly discovered it wasn’t as simple as that.

“The course was very broad, and while the prospectus suggested that physio was one of the career paths available, and the subjects included sports injuries and rehab, the qualification turned out not to be recognised,” she recalled.

Emily needed to pay the bills and so turned to office admin work, but her determination to become a physio remained and a few years later she went back to university, did a second degree and joined the profession she loves.

Now a senior musculoskeletal physiotherapist at the Victoria Hospital, Deal, she is inspired by “making a difference to people’s lives” and has ambitions to make a real impact on the wellbeing of the local community by broadening the services on offer.

The team at Deal looks after patients – mainly adults – at Deal and at Dover Health Centre, as well as seeing cases at the Balmoral and Aylsham GP surgeries. “It’s a varied and rewarding job and it’s good to be appreciated for what you do,” she said.

That appreciation is significantly more than Emily felt while doing office work as a ‘temp’ for a variety of companies after leaving university for the first time.

“I liked working in an office environment and I enjoyed being with colleagues but I never felt that I had achieved anything much or made a difference. I also felt I knew all there was to know in a very short space of time, unlike now, when I know there is still a huge amount to learn.”

While still keen to practise as a physio, Emily was put off by the thought of spending another three years working towards her career, but that changed when she reached her late twenties. “I realised that if I qualified by the time I was 30, I would still have another 30 years doing the job I loved,” she said.

Now 34, Emily joined an NHS-funded course at the University of East London in Stratford and qualified as a fully-fledged physiotherapist in 2011.

“The course showed me that there was far more to physio than sports injuries and helping with backache,” she said. “I hadn’t realised that acute physiotherapists even had to be on call to help people in intensive care with breathing difficulties. That was a real eye-opener for me and made me realise how much there was to learn.”

While Emily valued everything she studied on the course, her heart was set on becoming a musculo-skeletal physiotherapist, but even with her new qualification it wasn’t easy.

“I was living in London and there were hundreds of people applying for every job,” she explained. “I had to go back to temping to pay the bills, but that made apply for jobs difficult. Sometimes by the time I got back from work, job vacancies advertised in the morning had already closed because of the number of applicants.”

Emily persevered and eventually found a job in south east London as a junior physiotherapist before starting to look further afield and joining Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust as a musculoskeletal physio in December 2014.

Now a Band 6 physio after a recent promotion, Emily is glad finally to have landed the job she has worked towards for so long, and is full of praise for the support she receives from the foundation trust and the opportunities it continues to give her.

She has already had specialist Pilates training and is partway through an acupuncture course. Her ambition is to use those new skills to broaden what the Victoria Hospital team has to offer.


Cardiac Physiologist John Vanderpuye

Cardiac-Physiologist-John-VanderpuyeThere is a certain irony in the way Cardiac Physiologist John Vanderpuye’s patients like to say thank you.

“We offer a series of educational talks once a week after the exercise sessions on topics like diet and healthy eating – and at the end of the course they give me chocolate,” he smiled.

Not that a few chocolates are likely to cause John any problems. When it comes to promoting health and fitness the former Army physical training instructor-turned exercise specialist leads by example.

A Ghanaian who came here in 2002 for a holiday that was to change his life, John is passionate about exercise and about the enormous benefits it can have for patients recovering from heart problems.

He coordinates the Thanet cardiac rehabilitation programme and is the exercise team lead for patients referred onto the eight-week rehabilitation programme organised at Hartsdown Leisure Centre, Margate.

After suffering anything from coronary artery disease to bypass surgery and valve replacement, patients need specialist care and close monitoring – something that John and his experienced team make sure they receive.

“We even helped one man after he had a heart transplant,” said John. “Each patient is different and so I work closely with our specialist cardiac rehabilitation nurses and physiotherapist to ensure the programme meets their individual needs.

“We assess patients carefully before we start the programme and we monitor them continuously while they are on it. Properly structured exercise is a really beneficial way of strengthening the heart after surgery, but clearly we need to make sure they don’t overdo it.”

As well as the Thanet cardiac rehab courses at Hartsdown, Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust runs similar schemes in Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone and Ashford, all aimed at helping patients recover after having clinical treatment for their heart condition.

Patients must be referred for treatment, which involves two one-hour sessions a week for eight weeks. Two courses – one aimed at patients with a much higher exercise capacity – run at the same time, which means the team helps between 40 and 50 people a week on average.

They have their weight, height, blood pressure, pulse and cardio-vascular fitness assessed and their medications are also taken into account in setting up their individual exercise programme.

“We only prescribe exercise once we are confident that it is suitable and then we make sure the patient has a full induction before they start the course,” John explained.

Similar monitoring is carried out during and after each session, with patient feedback and specialist advice from the cardiac nurses used to make sure the exercise continues to have a positive impact on the individual’s health.

It’s a painstaking process, but John loves the work and is inspired by the results. “It’s fantastic to be making such a positive impact on someone’s life and I am humbled to be part of a team that makes such a difference,” said John, who married his American wife Abigail in 2009 and now has three young children.

John was studying computer sciences and office management in Ghana when he spent a holiday visiting family members in England.

While here he noticed that the British Army was on a recruitment drive, and as a 21 year-old who wanted to travel, he signed up, joining the Royal Engineers as a Sapper and serving in Germany and Northern Ireland before being posted to Nottingham.

He was trained as a combat engineer and became a PTI, and while helping soldiers achieve high levels of fitness he developed a passion for exercise that stayed with him when he left the Army in 2007 and started to consider his next career move.

With computer sciences no longer an inspiration, he studied for a BSc in sports and exercise science at Canterbury Christchurch University so that he could move into a career that would use his love of exercise but in a clinical or health setting.

After graduating in 2010 he worked as a fitness instructor at the university as well as running exercise classes for over-fifties, furthering his skills by completing a phase four exercise instructor course with the British Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation.

After progressing through the university’s ranks and spending time as an exercise referral instructor with Active Life Ltd, John moved to the trust in 2013 to become an exercise physiologist with the Cardiac Rehabilitation Team.

John is clearly a huge fan of exercise as treatment, pointing out that it is one of the few ‘medicines’ with no side effects.

“And it works,” he said. “The impact is huge. Almost all the patients who commit to the programme report a big difference in their quality of life. It’s amazing to see people coming in feeling vulnerable but finishing the course excited about what they have achieved – and what they want to achieve in future.”

Meanwhile his decision to join the British Army may not have been planned, but John, now 34, has never looked back. He has taken British citizenship and feels very settled in his adopted country.

“I love the country, I love the job and I want to carry on helping people by prescribing them exercise,” he said. “Even if they do forget my healthy eating advice when they say thank you!”