Derry’s Gary Rutherford wins Nurse of the Year Award

Gary Rutherford, a mental health nurse from Derry, has won the RCN Northern Ireland Nurse of the Year Award 2022 for his work through the Addiction Recovery Service (ARC).

Organised by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Gary was presented with the award by Health Minister, Robin Swann MLA at a special ceremony held at the Culloden Hotel, Holywood.

Gary was working in acute psychiatric admission wards and as an addiction nurse therapist in the Western Trust when he observed a gap in support services within the community. He initially set up ARC as a sign-posting service to help people to access appropriate help and support in community settings.

From the outset, demand was high and eventually Gary made the tough decision to give up his post within the Trust’s addiction service to focus on this work. The community-based not-for-profit organisation employs two full-time staff with a support team of 14, including mental health nurses, therapists, counsellors, personal trainers and peer recovery coaches. Gary provides holistic person-centred care and ensures the service focuses on preventing further physical and emotional harm. Gary’s nominator explains that, having experience of recovery himself, Gary has developed a ‘no shame’ approach to address the stigma related to addiction.

Pictured receiving the RCN Northern Ireland Nurse of the Year Award 2022 is Gary Rutherford (centre) with Pat Cullen, RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive (left) and Health Minister Robin Swann (right).

Having helped a wide range of people struggling with substance abuse, ARC’s patient-reported outcome measures show reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety, and positive social contacts between participants.

Gary’s nominator, Yvonne McWhirter, describes him as “an inspirational nurse who continues to keep his focus and priority on high standards and quality of care using innovative and relevant delivery.”

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I congratulate Gary on this great achievement winning Nurse of the Year 2022. Your commitment to caring and helping people recover from addiction is remarkable.

“You are all deserving of our admiration and it is very clear to me from my engagements and interactions with nurses, nursing students, nursing assistants and midwives that your commitment to the people you serve is unfaltering.

Gary Rutherford, founder of ARC Fitness and registered mental health nurse, who has been shortlisted for the Nurse of the Year award 2022.

“I want to take this opportunity to reiterate my support and commitment to you as a profession and recognise all of you that are nominated for the awards tonight for their outstanding accomplishments over the past year, but also I want to thank all nurses and midwives in our HSC for your steadfast and unwavering commitment to the vocation. You have a unique gift and this evening’s event demonstrates that. Be proud of your profession and of the service you provide.”

Commenting on the awards, Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, Rita Devlin, said: “Through his innovative and caring approach to care, Gary has changed the lives of many for the better. Working throughout the pandemic, he has created a new service and a different approach to treating those struggling with substance misuse and addition. Despite being a relatively new service, there has been promising evidence supporting the impact of the ARC program to the ongoing mental health and well-being of service users.

“Nursing staff, like other healthcare professionals have been through one of the most turbulent periods in healthcare history. Through these awards we have heard of the extraordinary achievements of nurses and health care support workers during this time and the impact this has had on patient care.

“We are so fortunate to have nurses in Northern Ireland whose skills and expertise are in demand throughout the world and we need to ensure that these same nurses feel supported, recognised and valued for everything they do.

“As we move forward nurses will continue to be committed to transforming and improving services and care for patients. This has been a wonderful opportunity to recognise and celebrate their many achievements and my heartfelt thanks and congratulations to each and every finalist in the awards.”