There are more than 10,000 district nurses 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.
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 final episode in the series sees us in Devon, with District Matron Shiobhan who is determined to help dementia sufferers live happy, fulfilled lives at home. Shiobhan has been nursing for 25 years, specialising in cognitive impairment her job entails looking after 25 patients. She says, “People with dementia are written off, they’re written off so quickly that ‘no, they can’t cope at home, they surely can’t cope at home’.”
We join Shiobhan as she assesses 88 year-old retired nurse Louise who has been in hospital after having a fall at home. Shiobhan must determine if she is able to return home and then put a care plan in place to ensure she can cope independently. Louise has no immediate family to give her the support that she needs so Shiobhan has arranged a team of carers who will help keep her in her own home.
When Shiobhan’s working day is over she returns home to her husband and two sons. “I spend all day caring for people and then I come home and care for some more people! I think my nursing life and home life run hand in hand at this moment in time.”
Meanwhile, in Bath, District Nurse Ren is doing an annual health check on David, a patient she has been visiting for seven years. 20 years ago, whilst on holiday, David was paralysed from the neck down when he broke his neck diving into a swimming pool. Since the accident he needs round the clock assistance from a team of carers but still happily enjoys a drink at the local pub and holds down a day job.
He says, “Before my accident I always enjoyed partying, I was always a very up person, always the pint glass half full as opposed to half empty. Not a lot got me down anyway. What’s the Italian saying? La Dolce Vita, you know, life’s sweet. That’s how I feel.”
Ren leads a team of district nurses who look after 50 patients. She has been nursing for 22 years and says, “I think Dave deals with his disability absolutely fantastically, remarkably well. He’s so adjusted to dealing with it and it’s really inspiring and amazing, the things he is able to do, despite being paralysed from the neck down, the life that he is able to lead.”