Specialist nurses who are the first port of call

MS nurse Fiona Mullan. (0805jB82)
MS nurse Fiona Mullan. (0805jB82)

When you think of nurses you usually see them in a hospital ward setting, or as the first point of call in A&E, but an increasing number of nursing posts are ‘specialists’. Two such nurses in the Western Trust are Fiona Mullan and Carole

Hinchcliffe, who provide an accessible service for patients with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). They spoke to Journal reporter Catherine Doran about their work

When you meet Fiona and Carole, it’s immediately obvious that they actually quite like their job. They’re passionate, dedicated nurses and they also have a smile on their face.

They both agree that the role is something they “genuinely enjoy”. Fiona insists, “I’m really lucky, I love my work” while both are quick to say that being a nurse is all they ever wanted to do, Neither could “imagine doing anything else”.

But the role they carry out is a serious one. They are both highly qualified and have a wealth of knowledge about the condition. This expert approach is vital for their patients, all of whom have been diagnosed with a life-changing and life-long illness.

Fiona says, “Everyone with MS is different; their symptoms are different, their treatment is different and their approach will never be the same.

“However, because we are seeing our patients consistently it means that we know their story, the background, and if anyone has a query we don’t have to start from scratch every time.

“And because it’s not something that’s going away we are seeing people on a long-term basis.”

In essence, the MS nurse also becomes the person patients will turn to before their GP or neurologist. As Fiona explains, “We’re almost like the middle man.”

She continues, “As well as supporting neurologists in clinics, and running our own nurse-led clinic, we are a link between the patient and the services they require.”

And they don’t sit still for long, with clinics in three hospitals stretching from Derry right down the West via Tyrone to Fermanagh, and approximately 500 patients under their watch.

Fiona says, “It’s true that our work is varied but that’s what I enjoy. No two days are the same and our contact with patients can be anything from a text message to a home visit.”

The ever-evolving treatments for MS also keep the nurses on their toes.

Fiona continues, “It’s often the case that the patient knows more about new treatments than we do but we’re constantly learning and the medicines for MS have changed greatly in ten years so it’s an ever-evolving environment.”

But it’s not just about the medical side of MS as the pair find themselves becoming confidantes and ultimately, friends, with their patients.

“I would like to think that we reassure and comfort our patients. Sometimes I would love to wave a magic wand and fix them but I can’t, so we support them as best we can, and while this is generally practical support sometimes it’s emotional support too.”

With this attitude it’s no surprise to hear that both Carole and Fiona “get the odd hug from patients” - and that’s not something all nurses can boast!