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Meet award-winning HIV nurse specialist Gary Barker

After developing a programme helping people living with HIV to access exercise classes, nutrition advice and healthcare, Gary Barker was named the UK's HIV Nurse of the Year 2015 by the National HIV Nurses Association.

After developing a programme helping people living with HIV to access exercise classes, nutrition advice and health care, Gary Barker was named the UK's HIV Nurse of the Year 2015 by the National HIV Nurses Association. 

Since he volunteered with the St John Ambulance as a teenager, Gary Barker knew he wanted to be a nurse. 

Now specialty lead nurse for sexual health at St Helen’s Hospital in Merseyside, meeting an inspiring tutor during his nurse training made him realise this was his future. 

Michelle Croxton and Gary Barker
Michelle Croston presenting Gary Barker with his award. Photo: Lenita Burman

‘I was in my early twenties and had experience of going to sexual health clinics where I was petrified and probably didn’t need to be,’ he says.  

After gaining his nursing diploma from Liverpool John Moores University in 2004, Mr Barker worked in the emergency department (ED) at Whiston Hospital in Liverpool – the busiest ED in Merseyside – for 12 months. 

But the pressures of the job meant there was not enough time to talk to patients, and he knew the role was not for him. 

Move in the right direction

After moving into genitourinary medicine as a band 5 nurse at St Helen's Hospital, he was appointed specialty lead nurse in 2014, with responsibility for eight band 6 nurses and three band 3 care assistants.

‘When I started in 2005, the service was doctor-led,’ says Mr Barker. ‘Over the years as I’ve progressed, I’ve made sure that is completely reversed. 

‘Now, the nurses run the clinic, and the consultant admits that. The nurses are autonomous and highly skilled.’

Another thing that has changed in the past 11 years is the increase in patient numbers, partly because people are more open to talking about sexual health, and because there’s less ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ from nurse to doctor to nurse.  

'It's difficult to tell someone the most intimate things in sexual health and HIV, so this is positive for patients because they’ve only got to tell their story to one person,' says Mr Barker. ‘It’s also positive for the nurses as they see that patient for the whole pathway.’ 

Accolades and titles

Mr Barker has been supported by his employer to gain further qualifications – a degree in reproductive and sexual health at the University of Central Lancashire, followed by courses in prescribing and mentorship at Edge Hill University. 

He was doing so many modules, he put them together to do a masters in advanced nursing practice.  

‘Part of this was doing clinical examinations,’ he says. ‘This is important in HIV – if an acutely unwell patient walks through the door, I need to know how to assess them.’ 

Mr Barker’s next ambition is to become a nurse consultant. In the meantime, he’s enjoying his success after being named the UK’s HIV Nurse of the Year 2015 by the National HIV Nurses Association, supported by biopharmaceutical company, Gilead. 

Mr Barker developed a programme helping people living with HIV to access exercise classes, nutrition advice and health care, and was nominated for the award by his staff.

‘I love what I do, so it was a nice acknowledgement of the work that I’ve put in,’ he says. 

 

Jacqui Thornton is a freelance journalist 

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