New hope for seriously ill children in Northern Ireland with first ever WellChild Nurse post

Posted on the 22nd February 2018

Children and young people with complex respiratory conditions in Northern Ireland are receiving the extra support they need to be together at home with their families with the official launch this week of a new WellChild Nurse role, made possible through funding from GSK.

The first WellChild Nurse in Northern Ireland, Ruth Harte, has begun her role as WellChild Community Paediatric Respiratory Nurse Specialist based at Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children (RBHSC). Ruth’s job is to ensure the process of getting these children home from hospital is as smooth as possible and that they are well supported once home to avoid unnecessary re-admissions. As well as advocating for the families and coordinating the wide range of professionals and services supporting these children, Ruth will focus on training staff, parents and carers looking after them at home.

This new WellChild Nurse post will help improve the lives of the growing number of families in the area whose children require special support. In 2000 four children on ventilation were treated by the regional respiratory team in Northern Ireland. This had already grown to nearly 50 in 2015 and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust estimates that in the first year of the WellChild Nurse post around 70 families could benefit from Ruth’s support.

Eight-year-old Daire from Belfast has already benefited from this extended nursing support from WellChild. Daire has a number of exceptional health needs, including a tracheostomy to help him breathe having been born with Apert Syndrome. Ruth helps the family with arrangements needed to keep Daire medically safe and supported at home from helping to source medicines to liaising with hospitals in England when Daire has to travel for certain operations. Ruth is a great source of support and comfort to Daire’s family, who know she is on the end of the phone for advice and action when Daire falls ill.

Daire’s mother, Collette Flanaghan, said:

Time is of the essence when Daire is not well and Ruth is on hand and able to act quickly so we can quickly get him into hospital when needed to be seen by people who know him and his condition. During difficult times with Daire’s health, it makes such a difference to me to see Ruth and have a chat and even a shoulder to cry on when needed.

Collette Flanaghan

Barbara Maxwell, Regional Paediatric Respiratory Nurse at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children said:

“Ruth’s role as a WellChild Nurse will help us address the steady growth of children and young people living with complex and exceptional health needs in Northern Ireland.  The teams of professionals involved in their care and the families of our patients are united in our aim of ensuring these children remain stable and living at home wherever possible.”

Ruth brings a wealth of relevant experience to this role with more than 17 years experience as a children’s nurse. This includes caring for children with acute/chronic conditions within the hospital and almost 10 years working within the Community Children’s Nursing Team, caring for children with complex healthcare needs and supporting their families within the home and the wider community.

WellChild Nurse Ruth with 9 month old Rory

Speaking about her new role Ruth said: “As a WellChild Nurse I am relishing the opportunity to deliver high quality support to children on both long term invasive and non invasive ventilation. This role puts me in a unique position of being able to support children and their parents on their journey from hospital to home and to support them back home to help limit the number of times they have to be re-admitted wherever possible. I am looking forward to streamlining processes and providing families with a smooth transfer from hospital to home as well as being alongside them to provide emotional and psychosocial support throughout.”

The WellChild Nurse programme was established in 2006 to address a clear gap in the provision of care and support for children with long-term serious illness and complex conditions. In addition to keeping families together and benefitting a child’s development, it is often more cost efficient to care for a child at home than in hospital. Its success has already resulted in the creation of posts across the UK, with further new posts being launched during this year.

Watch an interview with WellChild Nurse Ruth and the Belfast team.

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