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Tackling dementia

Dementia nurse Jeni Bell believes every hospital should have an Admiral Nurse

Discharge planning for patients with dementia can be difficult enough when arranging local services, so imagine trying to organise a care package for a patient being discharged to the US. This is exactly what leading dementia nurse Jeni Bell did when the daughter of a patient came to one of the cafs she runs to support the carers of patients with dementia at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

The mother and daughter had been on a cruise when the mother became unwell. When the ship docked at Southampton, she was transferred to the local hospital. The daughter was alone in a strange country and had no idea what to do. Her greatest concern was not being able to care for her mum when they got back to the States, says Ms Bell.

One of the people who supported the caf owned a care agency

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Discharge planning for patients with dementia can be difficult enough when arranging local services, so imagine trying to organise a care package for a patient being discharged to the US. This is exactly what leading dementia nurse Jeni Bell did when the daughter of a patient came to one of the cafés she runs to support the carers of patients with dementia at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

The mother and daughter had been on a cruise when the mother became unwell. When the ship docked at Southampton, she was transferred to the local hospital. ‘The daughter was alone in a strange country and had no idea what to do. Her greatest concern was not being able to care for her mum when they got back to the States,’ says Ms Bell.

‘One of the people who supported the café owned a care agency franchise. It was an American company, so she contacted the office in Florida, did the needs assessment at the hospital and set up the care package to start when they got back,’ she adds.

After completing her general nurse training in the 1980s and qualifying as a mental health nurse in 1991, Ms Bell spent most of her nursing career caring for older people with mental health problems. In September 2012, after four years as the lead Admiral Nurse for Southampton, she ‘jumped at the chance’ to become the UK’s first hospital-based Admiral Nurse clinical specialist.

‘I worked as a liaison nurse for the hospital and felt it needed to invest in its own dementia nurse to support people affected by the condition, and to help staff develop the knowledge and skills they need to care for patients with dementia,’ she says.

‘This role has given me the opportunity to bring the ethos and principles of Admiral Nursing to a new environment.’

Ms Bell has been instrumental in the development of a dementia-friendly ward, which includes brightly coloured doors to help patients remember which bay they are in and symbols instead of numbers to act as visual aids. The trust is also refurbishing a seminar room to turn it into a 1950s/1960s-style café, and is supporting John’s Campaign, which fights for the rights of carers of people with dementia to stay with them in hospital.

‘The hospital has really taken the dementia agenda to heart and embraced the challenges it poses,’ says Ms Bell. ‘It works daily to improve the experience of patients and relatives, while also investing time in staff to develop the skills to care for people with dementia.’

We need to have the expertise within hospitals to influence the provision of care, the environment and the education agenda

Developing the skills and knowledge of staff is a major part of Ms Bell’s role. As well as acting as a role model for nursing staff, she runs formal and informal training and development sessions that look at areas including how to understand the body language of a patient with dementia, and how to communicate with patients who cannot interact verbally.

This upskilling of staff in dementia care has helped Ms Bell reduce the ‘specialling’ budget on the medicine for older people’s ward from £54,000 a month to just £4,000, a remarkable cost saving.

‘By implementing a robust training programme, staff are now skilled in supporting individuals who need one-to-one care. Patients are cared for by staff who are familiar to them,’ she says.

According to Dementia UK, there are now four other hospital-based Admiral Nurse clinical specialists in place. Ms Bell has been joined by a colleague at Southampton, and there are nurses in trusts in Surrey, Lancashire and Manchester.

Ms Bell believes that every hospital in the country should have at least one nurse in this role, if not more.

‘Only 17% of people with dementia have dementia alone, meaning the other 83% could be admitted to hospital,’ she says.

‘We need to have the expertise within hospitals to influence the provision of care, the environment and the education agenda, as well as providing support and care to people with dementia and their carers.’

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