Nominations are now welcome for the Patients Choice category in the 2017 RCNi Nurse Awards. Here, previous winners and their nominators talk about what the award has meant to them.

'Winning the Patient Choice Award has been the highlight of my career so far. And having been nominated by a patient and then voted for by the public, it has reinforced that what I do does make a difference.

More importantly it has provided my bowel function service and I with a platform to reach out to people who often suffer in silence with debilitating bowel conditions, facilitating our ultimate goal in breaking the taboo with poo.

Lead bowel function clinical nurse specialist Kelly Stackhouse, who works for Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, was the winner of the 2016 Patients Choice category of the Nurse Awards, the professions top accolade.

Public vote

Patients nominateda nurse whose care had a big impact on their lives. The judges decide a shortlist from which the winner is chosen by a public vote. Nominations are now being invited for the 2017 award. The winner will be revealed on 5 May 2017 at the RCNi Nurse Awards held at Westminster Plaza Hotel, London.

Kelly was nominated by patient Tom Owen, for helping him survive his rectal cancer and subsequent anterior resection.

Incontinence is a hidden subject no one likes to talk about or admit to suffering, says Tom. At various times I was really struggling. I cannot put into words what Kelly did for me and, of course, other patients.

I was delighted when she was shortlisted. She, and her team, deserved to be recognised for the superb work they do. Most people acknowledge the many things that nurses do to make our lives better, but we rarely have the chance to say so.

Nominating your favourite nurse is a brilliant way of saying "Thank you so much". And they appreciate it. Kelly was delighted to be nominated. And when she won she said it was one of the nicest things that had ever happened to her.

Edge of my seat

Obviously there was intense competition the finalists are all winners aren't they? On the night of the awards I was on Twitter, and on the edge of my seat, it was so exciting! I was as happy as Kelly that night.

Kelly says winning the award has raised the faecal incontinence and constipation healthcare (FINCH)services profile, increasing referrals to the service. It has given the team the confidence to expand and develop significantly (see box).

This year will be hard to top as it has been the start of FINCHs flight and it is all thanks to our Patients Choice award, says Kelly.

Raising awareness

The 2015 winner Sarah Hartfree has also found that the award has enabled her to raise awareness of her specialty, juvenile arthritis, including on television on radio.

The paediatric rheumatology nurse specialist atUniversity Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trustadds: To win such an award was amazing. To know that your work is valued gives you more passion to achieve goals and ensure patients receive amazing care. I was truly honoured and will never ever forget the day.

Gabrielle Archer nominated the clinical nurse specialist. She met Sarah when her daughter Isabella, aged just one andin constant pain, had been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. Sarah took away all her daughters fear from the first day and was on hand whenever needed in the first scary months. When Gabrielles son was in hospital seriously ill, Sarah supported the family, coming to examine Isabella when she could not make appointments.

Giving something back

Gabrielle says: It was incredible to be able to nominate Sarah after all she had done for our daughter in the years since diagnosis. It was a chance to say thank you.

I was so excited watching the live Twitter updates on the night of the awards and to see she had won was amazing.Itfelt like I was giving her something back for all she does for her patients.

She so, so deserved it. My daughter lsabella, now aged 6,is yet to tire of telling everyone she has an award-winning nurse more than a year on!

Nursing Standard Editor Graham Scott said: Our Patient Choice category is a chance to say thank you for some of the outstanding, compassionate care that we know is being delivered by nurses throughout the UK day in, day out.

And even if your nurse is not on the shortlist, Nursing Standard uses as many nominations as possible in its Patient View column.

Tom adds: And if you don't nominate a nurse they can't win. Good luck to all the nominated nurses in the 2017 Patients Choice Awards.

Go to nominate.

Since Kelly Stackhouse won the Patient Choice category of the Nurse Awards 2016, her team has grown in confidence, developing and expanding theFINCH service significantly.

We have a greater feel of our value and presencelocally and nationally, and have seen an increase in referrals to the service, Kelly says.

The service has begun to increase its focus on continence services in the community, establishing a closer relationship with colleagues and ensuring the service is available more widely. Its integrated care document has been rolled out and a constipation pathway to highlight acute admissions at an early stage is being piloted. This will result in earlier treatment, reducing length of stay and bed days, but also improving patient experience and ensuring they get the right care, at the right time, by the right person, says Kelly.

The team is in the early stages of setting up a one-stop clinic, with Sandwell Hospital being a centralised hub providing satellite clinics in community health centres.

Kelly and her colleagues have also been setting up a forum for healthcare professionals working with bowel conditions.

have also been raising awareness by presenting and being guest speaker on study days and conferences, says Kelly. We are slowly breaking down the taboos around incontinence.

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