Career advice

It’s a privilege to work with veterans’ families, says award-winning Admiral nurse

Supporting and rebuilding families as they care for a loved one with dementia is the best part of the job for a devoted Admiral nurse

Supporting and rebuilding families as they care for a loved one with dementia is the best part of the job for a devoted Admiral nurse 

‘I like building relationships with families over time and empowering them,’ says Admiral Nurse
Deborah Hutchinson, right. Picture: John Houlihan

For Deborah Hutchinson, challenging the inequalities faced by those who live with dementia is among the reasons she became an Admiral nurse practitioner. 

‘Dementia is the forgotten mental health service and I wanted to try and change that,’ says Ms Hutchinson, who is employed by the Royal British Legion in Lancashire. ‘It’s a privilege to do what I do, working with veterans’ families and helping them.’ 

Care in the community 

After qualifying as a mental health nurse in 2012, Ms Hutchinson specialised in dementia care, working as a ward sister on a dementia assessment unit before taking up her first Admiral nurse post, working with two hospices. 

She moved to a community mental health team in Manchester before starting her role in August 2017. ‘I particularly like building relationships with families over time, empowering them to be the best carers,’ says Ms Hutchinson. 

Ms Hutchinson supports Pauline Higginson, who cares for her husband Michael.
Picture: John Houlihan

Trained by charity Dementia UK, Admiral nurses provide specialist dementia support in a variety of different settings, including NHS hospitals, the community, general practice surgeries and for other charities. The Royal British Legion is their largest employer in the UK, with 26 Admiral nurses – of around 240 nationally – working for the charity. 

Provides a safe space

Being employed outside the NHS has its advantages, Ms Hutchinson believes. ‘We’re not working within the same constraints, so we can be more creative about how we support those with a dementia diagnosis,’ she says. 

Their family-centred approach means nurses work collaboratively with those who care for the person with dementia, looking after their needs too, by providing education and advocacy, for example. 

'We help families cope with the loss and grief that is part of living with a dementia diagnosis, and to make the most of the good times'

Deborah Hutchinson 

‘We help them build resilience,’ says Ms Hutchinson. ‘Sometimes we can be the only other person they speak to outside the household. We provide a safe space for them to share how they are feeling and help them find support so they can carry on.’

 Her contribution has been recognised with a Royal British Legion award – she was nominated by her manager for her work helping to rebuild a family’s relationship following a dementia diagnosis. 

Ms Hutchinson with her award from
the Royal British Legion.

Reduces social isolation

Home-based, Ms Hutchinson starts her day doing administrative tasks and triaging any calls or new referrals. With a caseload of 40 to 45 patients, she visits an average of four a day, spending roughly an hour with each. 

Admiral nurses use an 18-point clinical assessment tool, which looks at the needs of the carer and the person with the diagnosis. It can be completed over several visits and is reviewed every six months, forming the basis of care planning. 

Alongside educating other professionals about dementia, once a month Ms Hutchinson runs a two-hour long ‘memories and comrades’ café at Blackburn Rovers football ground, helping to reduce social isolation. 

Admiral nurses attend a professional and practice development day each month. This includes clinical supervision, followed by presentations, speakers and workshops, and Ms Hutchinson also volunteers for the dementia helpline two or three times a month, during evenings and at weekends. 

Being on hand as families negotiate periods of transition, such as a move into a care home or approaching the end of life, is a major aspect of her role. ‘We stay with the family as long as they feel they need us,’ says Ms Hutchinson. 

They can also refer back into the service when they need extra support. ‘We help families cope with the loss and grief that is part of living with a dementia diagnosis, but it’s also about making the most of the good times, using life story books and reminiscence – all the things that allow them to reconnect with each other.’   

Lynne Pearce is a freelance health journalist 

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