Nursing the Nation follows district nurses on their rounds visiting different homes across the country, creating intimate, affectionate portraits of their diverse patients and their inspiring ability to grasp life in the face of adversity.The series continues, and this week we’re in the winding countryside of Devon following Nurse Lesley before heading to Yorkshire to get a glimpse of the day-to-day work of the District Nurse team headed by Ruth.
There are more than 10,000 district nurses working across the country, visiting more than 2 million people every year. For many these are the unsung heroes of the NHS. They develop relationships with patients that can last for years on end and as they see them in their own homes, they often become a huge part of their lives and cornerstones of the local community.
District Nurse Lesley is one of nine nurses who cover over 500 square miles of remote valleys and rustic farmland. Driving hundreds of miles a week through the North Devon countryside, supporting patients in their own homes, Lesley says, “I don’t think people realise what District Nursing is really. They have perceived us as those women on push bikes that ride around everywhere but we’ve gone up a bit now, we’ve got cars! The countryside couldn’t manage without nurses actually. People wouldn’t be able to stay at home. They would lose their independence; they would probably have to move from the places that they’ve lived in all of their life, so it would be quite a dramatic effect on them I think.”
This week, we follow Lesley as she sees three of her 150 patients, including cancer patient Avril. Having left hospital eight months ago, Lesley visits Avril every fortnight to take her blood before she can undergo her regular chemotherapy treatment.
Lesley also takes a trip to see Doris and Dudley, childhood sweethearts who’ve been married over fifty years, but now spend most of their time in bed and prefer not to go downstairs.
Meanwhile, in Yorkshire, 65 year-old Gillian has been in hospital for six months after an operation on her knee. Today, she is finally being released, but can hardly walk. One of thousands of patients discharged from hospital every day, she is only able to leave thanks to District Nurses who will be able to care for her at home. She’s hoping the team, headed by Ruth, will help her to regain the independence to live on her own.
Ruth says, “We’re all here to keep her at home and that’s our job and that’s what we intend to do. The people who do best with us are the people who refuse to give up and we have often been really surprised by how much better people have done than we thought they would. And that’s because they have been full of determination and overcome all sorts of obstacles that other people would just be completely floored by.”
Gillian’s operation means she will never be able to bend her leg again so she is re-learning every simple movement, including getting into bed and coping in the kitchen. With the help and support of Ruth and the District Nurse team, Gillian’s determination to stay at home will hopefully help her to recover successfully.