Support when families need it most: ‘health visitors may not know the impact they have’

Patient’s Choice nominee Noreen Ferguson helped a family deal with their son’s autism diagnosis

Noreen Ferguson: ‘Her compassionate approach unravels the stigma of referrals,’ says her nominator

A health visitor serving a rural area of Northern Ireland has been described as ‘a guardian angel, who shows great empathy and gives the families in our community strength and confidence’.

Olivia McManus says Noreen Ferguson, who works in Belleek, County Fermanagh, for Western Health and Social Care Trust, not only helped and guided her family through their son’s autism diagnosis, but also acts as a rock for the whole community.

Health visitor gave emotional and practical support to the whole family

She has nominated Ms Ferguson for the Patient’s Choice category of the RCNi Nurse Awards 2020.

‘My husband and I struggled to come to terms with the diagnosis,’ says Ms McManus.

‘Our hearts were breaking but Noreen helped and guided us with every aspect, so we are now better equipped to deal with it.’

Read about the rest of our Patient’s Choice finalists below, or click here to vote

‘She came towards me with outstretched arms’

Ms McManus said Ms Ferguson spotted development delays at their son Dáire’s two-year review. She and her husband were not ready to face or believe the diagnosis and Noreen recognised this.

‘On Father’s Day we had a difficult family day out with a very public meltdown, and it really brought home what we were facing,’ says Ms McManus.

‘At the health centre the next day, Noreen instantly acknowledged why I needed to see her. She came towards me with outstretched arms and hugged me, one of the most poignant moments in my life.

‘The emotion of everything surfaced that day and Noreen spent the afternoon explaining the process of referral, talking me through avenues to get Dáire the best possible interventions, listening to my hopes and fears for my son.

‘This was a very hard day for me and I am indebted to Noreen for being there.

Olivia McManus: ‘Noreen offers support
for families across the community’

‘Some would say it’s her job, but Noreen is more than that to a whole community of families, all of whom admire her friendly and practical approach, where we see her as a true friend, confidante, counsellor, therapist and mother figure.’

Ms McManus says Ms Ferguson not only works hard to ensure families in the community get the services and referrals they need, but that ‘her compassionate and practical approach unravels the stigma of those referrals’.

‘Noreen is the one we can turn to’

‘Many mums in our area have been through many different challenges, and it is always Noreen’s name that is mentioned for her invaluable support,’ says Ms McManus.

‘Whether it be bereavement in a family, special or additional needs, illness or isolation, Noreen is the one we can turn to. She arms us mums with the coping mechanisms and confidence to deal with what comes our way, ultimately benefiting our children.

‘In the past year, Dáire has made vast improvements in his speech, eye-contact, social skills and many other areas. Any tears I shed now are ones of happiness and pride at how well he is doing. This is all thanks to Noreen.’

Recognition for our team of health visitors

Ms Ferguson says she is shocked to have been nominated: ‘I can’t believe that someone has been so kind to actually go to the trouble that Olivia did to nominate me.

‘It is so heartfelt and so lovely to hear. It is also recognition for what we do as health visitors. We are a fabulous team.

‘Olivia is a super mum and her husband Brendan is a great dad. I did not realise the difference I had made to her life. I felt I was doing my job. As health visitors, sometimes we do not realise the impact we have.’

Voting for the RCNi Patient’s Choice award opens on 17 August and closes at midnight on 11 September. The winner will be announced winner at a virtual ceremony later this year

Elaine Cole is RCNi special projects editor

The RCNi Patient’s Choice award is supported by Nursing Standard