|Hannah Headden photo by Spike Johnson|
For international nurses day on the 12th May, the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale we’re highlighting one our lovely volunteer Support workers, Hannah Heddon who works at our healthcare clinic Project:London. The clinic is run by Doctors of the World UK (Médecins du Monde) as part of our work to help vulnerable people worldwide, Project:London’s ethos is that health is human right.
Hannah has volunteered with Doctors of the World for over two years, while working as a nurse in the A&E department in Paddington. She graduated in politics and it was when she started helping out in youth development schemes and supporting people with HIV and Aids that she became inspired to train as a nurse. Hannah is really caring and dedicated to the work we do and feels passionate about working with our service users. She has also learned a lot about public health issues.
“As a support worker I am the first ‘face’ that our service users often see. Many come to the clinic frightened and anxious, I meet people in the waiting room and go through a set of questions to gather social information regarding why our service users have attended the clinic. Some may not need active treatment at that point but all need help in accessing NHS care. I signpost service users to other organisations that offer help in their local areas such as soup kitchens or offer legal advice.
I realise that the most important thing that you can do is listen and give people time to express their sadness or frustration at how their life has turned out. I am constantly amazed and humbled by our service users and their ability to remain positive against the odds. Service users are scared, ashamed or embarrassed about certain issues and building a rapport with someone in a short period of time is essential. It is not about listening to words alone but picking up on body language and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Often it’s about saying ‘I am here and I will do everything I can’ and that’s something we all need to be doing as nurses. I regularly encounter service users who have been in the UK for years, sometimes over 10, and are only attempting to access health services because they have reached breaking point; chronic pain left untreated, asthmatics without inhalers, women in their third trimester who have had no antenatal care or episodes of deep depression leading to thoughts of suicide.
Before I got involved with the work of Project:London, I didn’t fully understand how difficult it was to register or access primary care services for some people. However if you are homeless or sleeping on a church floor, how do you ever provide a proof of address to register at GP? Recent public discourse has suggested that ‘health tourism’ is endemic across the UK with many ‘tourists’ utilising a health service that is stretched to breaking point. I have yet to meet one of these ‘health tourists’ within the clinic and I would also argue that the NHS will be even more stretched if we do not fully integrate those most marginalised and disadvantaged within our society. Those in need will end up attending A&E departments for conditions that could have been treated at GP’s instead.
I am passionate about the NHS and the services they provide in the UK but I am also unwilling for healthcare to become exclusive. As nurses we must advocate strongly for those who do not have a voice I stand by the pledge I have taken as a nurse: to work ‘with integrity and compassion, with quiet heroics and loud advocacy and to break this promise would be detrimental to many’ (NMC, 2011). We must fight to ensure that we remember those that society has forgotten.”