My job

'I know I am in the right place when I see the impact we are having on people’s lives'

Alison Hopkins has improved the lives of countless patients with complex leg wounds and has received an MBE that she says is a celebration of community nursing
Alison Hopkins

Alison Hopkins has improved the lives of countless patients with complex leg wounds and has received an MBE that she says is a celebration of community nursing

Alison Hopkins qualified as a general nurse at Westminster Hospital in 1984. She became a district nurse in Tower Hamlets in London in 1986. She set up one of the first leg ulcer clinics in 1989, becoming a tissue viability specialist in 1995 and a sabbatical as a lecturer in the Cardiff Wound Healing Unit, now known as the Welsh Wounds Innovation Centre. She led the moving of a specialist wound and lymphoedema service from the primary care trust to an independent social enterprise Accelerate a community interest company that is a healthcare social enterprise working within the NHS.

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Alison Hopkins has improved the lives of countless patients with complex leg wounds and has received an MBE that she says is a celebration of community nursing

Alison Hopkins qualified as a general nurse at Westminster Hospital in 1984. She became a district nurse in Tower Hamlets in London in 1986. She set up one of the first leg ulcer clinics in 1989, becoming a tissue viability specialist in 1995 and a sabbatical as a lecturer in the Cardiff Wound Healing Unit, now known as the Welsh Wounds Innovation Centre. She led the moving of a specialist wound and lymphoedema service from the primary care trust to an independent social enterprise – Accelerate – a community interest company that is a healthcare social enterprise working within the NHS.


Alison Hopkins is committed to challenging the status quo if it means improvements for nurses and their patients

What does your current role involve?

I’m chief executive of Accelerate. Our multidisciplinary team provides specialist care for people living with chronic wounds and/or lymphoedema. I have various operational and clinical roles, but I am primarily here to provide leadership and ensure we remain tethered to our mission, which is to improve the lives of people with lymphoedema and complex leg ulcers. Our highly specialist multidisciplinary team do this with innovative practice, education and analysis as well as joining the dots to create system change.

Why did you become a nurse?

Nursing has always been what I wanted to do. This has never wavered. But if not nursing, then some form of public service. Even as a chief executive, my role is all about nursing and making what is obviously right happen by challenging the status quo. 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the opportunities. I have to inspire others and give hope that life can be different. For patients, this means that things can be improved with a bit of tweaking and by optimising compression therapy. For clinicians, seeing their eyes light up at the possibility that they can be more effective makes me optimistic for nursing and for patients. For commissioners and providers, it is demonstrating how we can help create change for patients and the nursing workforce. Fundamentally, I know I am in the right place when I see the impact we are having on people’s lives, and know that we are growing the leaders of the future. 

What have you learned from setting up Accelerate?

That staying focused on the patient-centred mission with underpinning values of integrity and kindness will help you find the right path in difficult times and keep you all on track. And that the people you work with are the essential component for success. It is important to employ people with the same values and who have the same mission.

What can community nurses take from this?

I often hear community nurses say that they feel unable to challenge decisions made by senior staff. I encourage them to critique situations that they and their patients are in, to speak the truth with boldness and to challenge the ‘way things are done around here’ especially when it makes no sense. I'm afraid that nursing has lost its ability to critique things because nurses are overworked and leadership has been diminished. This is one reason why we focus on the effect that non-healing leg ulcers have on the workforce as they are demoralising and time-consuming – and would be less of a problem if the system changed.

What advice would you give to other nurses who want to set up an independent company?

To understand that a social enterprise is utterly different than managing a service. And to get a good business manager on board!

What nursing achievement makes you most proud?

I am proud of my work that has been published and I am most proud of the development of a compression strapping technique, pioneered with another nurse specialist Fran Worboys. We were colleagues for 20 years in a fabulous multidisciplinary team that was the foundation of Accelerate. This partnership was incredibly creative and the strapping has healed so many complex and non-healing leg ulcers, improving so many lives. I do not know how other services manage without this technique for this complex cohort. This has created great healing rates and thus fantastic outcomes for our patients.

What or who inspires you?

People, but especially women, who quietly get on with their work with integrity, focus and passion. There is too much noise and bluster in this world.

What do you enjoy doing outside work?

I am trying to get a better balance in my life so this year I joined a choir and got back into pilates. I also enjoy walking with friends when it includes a decent pub in the country. And being challenged by my feisty daughters.

What makes a good community nurse?

Love of people in all their variety and complexity is a must. A community nurse also needs to be an excellent advocate and skilled in finding solutions like a dog with a bone.

What advice would you give a newly-registered nurse?

To find out what makes you tick and gives you energy; follow that thread and you will find the place that you need to be in order that you do your best work.

What is likely to affect nurses working in the community over the next 12 months?

I am excited to see that a national wound strategy will be in place at long last. This is an excellent opportunity to focus on the effect of poorly managed leg ulcers in the community and primary care and it will allow us to change the system. I hope that this strategy will be realistic and it will deliver some quick wins that will effect community nurses' and patients' lives.

What does it mean to you to be awarded an MBE?

Receiving an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours has been a lovely surprise and I am proud of receiving this for services to nursing. What has been so special has been the reaction of my family, team, colleagues and friends. I have had the most wonderful opportunity of hearing what people think and feel about my work and about the impact it has had on patients and colleagues. That has been an honour.  

The award is a celebration of community nursing and I hope it will raise the profile of wound care. A community nursing colleague asked me when the party was, so I am taking on her idea and I'm having a party to celebrate why we became part of this profession and what makes us feel proud. We all have a lot to celebrate but we rarely articulate it to ourselves, let alone others.

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