Charge Nurse with the Western Trust’s new Acute Care Home Team, Derry man, Barry Tierney, speaks about his career, becoming a male nurse, and the importance of treating older patients at home as opposed to admitting them to hospital.
Barry Tierney (29) from Ballyarnett qualified as a nurse in 2009 and had been working in Altnagelvin Hospital’s Intensive Care/Critical Care Unit ever since.
Recently, however, he has moved into new territory, having been promoted to Charge Nurse status within the Western Health & Social Care Trust’s new Acute Care Home Team.
The ‘Acute Care at Home’ team is a new service initiated to treat and keep people aged 75 and over in their own homes wherever possible, rather than having them admitted to hospital.
Services provided in the community focus include physio, ECG and other treatments, acute care at home nursing teams administering drugs and nursing therapies.
“This started in England with some success and moved to Northern Ireland two years ago and the team in Craigavon was the first team to do it.” said Barry.
“We went live on August 22 this year and the demand has increased week on week.”
Referrals are made via GP and Ambulance Service for example, for non-life threatening events and then we go out and assess patients in their own home within a two hour time-frame.
The local team consists of a consultant, two specialist doctors, a pharmacist, an occupational therapist, a physio and a team of band 7 nurses, charge nurses and sisters, band 5 nurses and care assistants. “There are around 27 in the team and the feedback has been really positive. The older people don’t want to leave their own homes and there’s a sense if you go into hospital you might get confused and there’s a higher risk of falls and infections,” added Barry.
“The family find it extremely satisfying as well that they are able to keep their mum or dad at home. We can catheterise, do ECGs, blood tests, intravenous antibiotics in their own homes, including nursing homes.”
PEOPLE NOW LIVING LONGER
In addition to helping patients and with people today living longer and with more complex health issues as a result, Barry said the capacity, in terms of hospital beds, to accommodate everyone just isn’t there.
At the minute the service is up and running in Derry and Limavady with plans to expand to Strabane at then, the Claudy and Feeny areas at the beginning of February.
Describing his own path into nursing, Barry said he had always had ambitions to be a paramedic, but was too young to drive an ambulance.
After completing his A-Levels at St. Brigid’s College in Carnhill, he enrolled in the Step Up Programme and later secured a Nursing undergraduate place at Magee, emerging with a First Class Honours Degree.
He said that it was great being able to live at home and study in his home city.
“You also get a bursary of £500 a month when you are studying to be a nurse and they pay all your fees. If you have children there is additional finance available,” he confirmed.
The degree is, however, one of the toughest to undertake, and those who sign up have to be committed and prepared to put in the graft.
“You do a lot of placement hours. Half of the course is in university and the other half in hospital and there are nights and weekends involved, but it is all definitely worth it and you are almost guaranteed employment.”
Barry secured employment directly after qualifying in critical care with the Western Trust.
“It’s where my passion was: ICU/Trauma. Being in trauma there’s a lot of sadness and death, but there are great news stories; positive stories. Empathy is a real big part of it, trying to reassure relatives. It’s amazing how people cope in these situations.”
Barry insisted that his new role in a new service has been a learning curve, and also has its challenges and rewards.
“I love innovation and anything that is challenging or new. It has been challenging but enjoyable,” he noted.
In terms of nursing, he said there are so many opportunities and pathways, and he has never looked back since becoming a nurse.
He admits though that being a male nurse was strange at first.
“It was a baptism of fire I suppose. I was out of my comfort zone at the start. There were 250-260 student nurses in my year and only 10 or 11 were male. Most of them were older men who had gone back into education.”
“I am now a mentor within the Trust and I have had students who were bricklayers, labourers - it’s never too late to become a nurse. I would encourage more males to consider nursing.
“There are very few jobs where you are going to start off with a salary of £21,000 which later rises to between £26,000 and £27,000, with pay points every year and extra for weekends and nights.
“It is a 24 hours, 365 days a year profession, so you have got to be prepared for nights and weekends, Easter, Christmas, but they’re not as bad as you might think. “
Barry said that in his new role, one of the most rewarding things is meeting and chatting with patients.
“People don’t realise there is a lot of loneliness out there and sometimes although the treatment doesn’t take that long, it’s the actual conversation people value.
“You might be the only face they see that day. There’s a lot of people out there that don’t have families or close families.”
Nursing, he adds, is one of the very few careers that is internationally recognised, and while it may be tough to get a place at university, there were many opportunities for those that complete their course, the opportunities to work close to home are better than ever.
“You have a 90 per cent chance of getting a job in your own local Health Trust and the Western Trust has a high population of older nurses heading for retirement,” he claimed.
“Magee University this year has significantly increased its student nurses intake, although for every one student nurse at Magee, 10 will have applied.
“Nursing in general,” he concludes, “is very challenging but very rewarding, with great career progression prospects - I’m 29 and I have made it up two bands.
“If you want to progress there are opportunities there.”