Career advice

Award-winning care

Anita Astle urges nurses to 'work hard, play hard and have the time of your life'

HAD SHE been ‘clever enough’, Anita Astle would have liked to have been a paediatrician. But on failing to get the grades for medicine, she embarked on a nursing career that has already spanned 30 years. She has no regrets.

After completing her A-levels, Ms Astle spent six months working in retail where she was offered management training. But, she says: ‘I knew this was not enough of a challenge for me. I decided I wanted to care for people so I entered nursing.’

Now managing director of Wren Hall Nursing Home, in Nottinghamshire, and a mother of three, Ms Astle trained as a nurse in 1984 at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham. On qualifying, she worked as a staff nurse on the burns unit at Nottingham City Hospital (NCH) before moving to Basildon and Thurrock Health Authority to study on the English National Board’s full-time course in burns and plastic surgery nursing. She later returned to NCH to work in its intensive care unit for two years before taking up her role at Wren Hall.

With a string of academic achievements, as well as an MBE for services to older people received from the Queen in 2014, Ms Astle is proud of her nursing career. Not only is she still involved in hands-on care, but she has also held a variety of senior and managerial roles, including non-executive director of a trust, board member of Skills for Care, and governor of a mental health trust.

‘I love what I am doing and where I am,’ she says. ‘I have had lots of contact with various organisations in health and social care and been fortunate enough to have influence in these areas.’

Ms Astle has worked at Wren Hall, a 53-bed home specialising in the care of people with dementia, for more than 26 years, despite planning for it to be a temporary position.

‘I specialised in the care home sector by default,’ she explains. ‘I was on maternity leave while my dad was building a nursing home in his back garden. He asked me to complete an application form to be its matron. Initially, I refused because I was a burns and plastic specialist nurse, but then agreed to do it temporarily. Now, 26 years later, I am still here,’ she laughs.

‘For the first 19 months, I was working from 7am until 9.30pm and I did not have a day off during that time. I was living and breathing the job and loved every minute.’

Ms Astle sees similarities between where she started her career and where she is now. ‘When you work in intensive care, you give total holistic care. You look at someone’s physical, emotional, social and psychological needs, just as we do in a nursing home,’ she explains.

She holds overall responsibility for the day-to-day management of Wren Hall, which has a turnover of £2.4 million and 117 staff.

She is especially proud of the work she did to transform Wren Hall into a dementia specialist nursing home. ‘It started as a general nursing home, but about ten years ago we began to get more people with dementia living with us. Originally, families were told to look for homes for the mentally infirm, but they would come back saying the homes were wrong for them.

‘We took part in the Dementia Care Matters enterprise programme, which involved an unannounced observational audit of every home and quality of service. We achieved a level 1, which is the highest we could get.’

Recently, Ms Astle became one of the new fellows of Skills for Care, which drives improvements on workforce issues across adult health and social care. This involves spending at least 7.5 hours a month promoting workforce education, training and development, and best practice for mentors.

Ensuring all her care home staff are suitably trained is a priority, she says. All of her staff, including the administration team, nurses and healthcare assistants, must obtain care certificates devised by Skills for Care, Skills for Health and Health Education England.

‘Administration staff do it because they interact with people at Wren Hall,’ she says. ‘This is a whole-team approach and everyone knows what needs to be done.’

Asked what advice she would give a newly qualified nurse in her field, Ms Astle says: ‘Take every opportunity that comes your way. Question, question and question again, and then reflect on what you have learned. Work hard, play hard and have the time of your life.’

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