Renal unit team wins Patient's Choice category at RCNi Nurse Awards

Nurses who topped public vote praised as 'absolutely excellent but so humble'

Three nurses in the home therapies team of a renal unit at a hospital in Northern Ireland have been named winners of the Patient’s Choice award at this year’s RCNi Nurse Awards

A team of nurses nominated by a couple who they supported through kidney cancer, years of dialysis and a transplant has won one of the profession’s top accolades.

Renal home therapies nurses Alison Cairns, Caroline McCloskey and Bridgeen Canning were crowned winners in the Patient’s Choice category of the RCNi Nurse Awards at a ceremony in London on 4 July.

The team from Altnagelvin Area Hospital, part of Western Health and Social Care Trust in Derry/Londonderry, was nominated by Carmel and Joe McMonagle before being selected for a five-strong shortlist that was put to a public vote. Thousands of people took part in the voting, with the team from Northern Ireland emerging as winners.

‘We are only as good as the team that surrounds us’

Ms Canning says: ‘We are so proud to win this award – proud for the sake of our nominators Carmel and Joe but also our other patients and colleagues.

‘We firmly believe we are only as good as the team that surrounds us. We are happy to share the joy and glory with the greater renal team and all at the trust as a whole.’

‘When I got my diagnosis, I thought my life had ended. I needed someone in my corner, and with these nurses I was never alone’

Carmel McMonagle

Ms McMonagle had her kidneys removed after a cancer diagnosis. She was on dialysis for seven years until husband Joe donated a kidney to her four years ago. Their nurses, who they still see, have been by their side all the way.

‘It has been such a journey – without them I don’t know how I would have coped,’ Ms McMonagle says. ‘When I got my diagnosis, I thought my life had ended. I needed someone in my corner, and with these nurses I was never alone.

‘They made sure I knew what was going on, and that I was able to get on with my life. They showed me I had a life to live. They enabled me to rule my dialysis rather than it rule me.’

‘You feel so relaxed with them’

When the renal team suggested she try home dialysis Ms McMonagle was unsure, but her nurses gave her the support she needed.

‘I was only able to do home dialysis because of their backup,’ she says. ‘They are always at the end of the phone to talk things through. I had never needled myself – they patiently taught me how. They were always checking to make sure I was okay.

‘They are constantly striving to improve every aspect of the care and education of patients’

Joe McMonagle

‘You feel so relaxed with them straight away, which is a big thing in itself. They are absolutely excellent but so humble. They say they are just doing their job but they definitely go over and above.

‘I’m very, very lucky to have them,’ she adds. ‘But it is not just me, they deal with everyone the same. They have such great gifts.’

Special relationship with patients’ families

Mr McMonagle says all three nurses have shown a passion to involve patients at the very start of their journey through kidney failure.

‘They take extra time to ensure that all patients have as much information as possible on their condition and the treatments available until they are equipped with enough information and knowledge to allow them to understand their condition and to make decisions.

‘And they have a special relationship with patients’ families, who are involved at every stage and made to feel an important part of the process.’

‘Our goal is to identify what is important to our patients and not lose sight of it’

Bridgeen Canning, dialysis nurse specialist

The couple say it is clear to them that the nurses are committed to providing the best service.

‘They are constantly striving to improve every aspect of the care and education of patients, and have developed questionnaires to gather patient feedback on the overall process of education, training of patients and their understanding of treatments,’ says Mr McMonagle.

The couple particularly value a peer support group set up by the team, where patients can express their fears and concerns and benefit from the experience of longer-term patients regarding renal failure, dialysis or being a carer. The group, set up eight years ago, works closely with the team to support patients.

Fun days for families

In their own time, the nurses organise fun days so patients’ families can get to know each other, as well as lifestyle and well-being courses and a remembrance service for those who have died. They created a Garden of Life to give thanks to organ donors, and last year the nurses organised and accompanied a team attending the British Transplant Games.

The nurses boast nearly 55 years of experience between them. Ms Cairns is a specialist in pre-dialysis, Ms McCloskey a specialist in transplant and Ms Canning a dialysis nurse specialist.

‘We are quite humbled by it all. We are just doing our job’

Caroline McCloskey, transplant nurse specialist

They are passionate about their jobs and their patients, although shocked and ‘a bit overwhelmed’ to be even nominated, let alone crowned winners through public support.

‘We were shocked initially that someone took the time to write,’ says Ms McCloskey. ‘We are quite humbled by it all. We are just doing our job.

‘After 18 years I still love nursing and feel very lucky to have a job that is so rewarding and that I enjoy. That our patients think so highly of us is lovely.’

The renal team at a Christmas fun day on the unit. Picture: Presseye

With patients on their journey

Ms Cairns says: ‘It is lovely to know we have made such a difference, but they are the courageous ones.

‘Unlike many of our patients, Carmel had a very sudden diagnosis, but after her second kidney was removed she looked so confident around the process that we moved her home to carry out dialysis. It was unique in our renal service.

‘Our patients are living with this for the rest of their lives and we are part of that journey. We become very close to them and they allow you to be an important part. It is a privilege.’

Ms Canning agrees, saying the lifetime journey is one of the reasons why their relationships with patients are so strong.

‘We are blessed to have a great connection with our patients, but I think patients sense your sincerity from the outset. We gain their trust and work together for a better outcome. It is very rewarding.

‘As our renal patients will never be discharged from our service, it provides us with the ideal situation of building trust and good patient care. Our goal is to identify what is important to our patients and not to lose sight of it.’

‘A good day’s work’

They pay tribute to the McMonagles. ‘When we wanted to give something back to patients and set up a support group they came on board and are now leading on work to support newly diagnosed patients,’ says Ms Cairns.

‘This award helps nurture that desire to keep striving for better care for our renal patients’

Alison Cairns, pre-dialysis nurse specialist

She adds: ‘I often leave work thinking “now that was a good day’s work”. This award takes that feeling of doing a good job to a different level. It’s the patient and families who really are our judge and jury.

‘It’s very motivating. We work in nursing at a time that is very challenging. This award helps nurture that desire to keep striving for better care for our renal patients regardless of the difficulties with our devolved government and healthcare.

‘It proves that it only takes small steps to climb mountains, and yet a glorious sight can be seen from any point of the journey. We are all like that, journeys in progress. I am delighted that we have had such a profound impact on Carmel and Joe’s journey thus far. Thanks go to them for letting us do our job so well.’

The RCNi Nurse Awards 2018 Patient’s Choice award is sponsored by Yakult


Read about the other finalists

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