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Blizzards fail to stop district nursing teams




Sophie Jones, healthcare assistant, working in Ixworth during the snow as she was unable to get into Bury
Sophie Jones, healthcare assistant, working in Ixworth during the snow as she was unable to get into Bury

Nurses battled through blizzards and past snowdrifts to get to their patients last week.

Severe weather conditions and stranded staff did not stop the district nursing teams from delivering care.

One Bury St Edmunds team, which usually has six nurses visiting patients at home across the town and outlying villages, saw its numbers plummet to just one nurse, with other team members unable to travel safely to work.

District Nurse Helen Openshaw, whose team covers the Angel Hill, Swan and Guildhall surgeries, sacrificed her day off to deliver care instead.

“The conditions out there were pretty horrific,” she said.

“I run the team with my fellow district sister Shelley Lee and we were on the phone to each other at 7.15am working out how we were going to run the day.

“We went through which staff could come in and which were stranded. I only had one who could get in, when we would normally have six.”

Using her husband’s 4x4 vehicle, Helen and Community Nurse Louise Griffin together visited as many patients as they could.

“The patients were really relieved to see us and very pleased that we were able to get to them,” said Helen.

“I have been with this team for five years but I’ve been a district nurse for 18 years and this was the worst I have seen it. Our priority was keeping staff safe and seeing patients.”

During the snow, West Suffolk Community Services prioritised to ensure patients with urgent medication, pain relief and clinical terminal care needs were seen.

Colleagues who could not get to their usual base travelled to the one nearest their home, while all clinical staff who could get out to see patients did so, regardless of their normal role.

Sharon Blomfield, a community nurse with the Bury Rural team at Botesdale Health Centre, travelled to work from Bacton, but a jackknifed lorry near Finningham made one road impassable. Another motorist said a farmer was on his way with a tractor and Sharon joined a convoy heading to the main road.

Once at the health centre, a volunteer 4x4 driver took her to patients living in remote areas before driving Sharon home.

Michelle Glass, area manager, said: “The staff made heroic efforts to ensure we were able to care for those most in need. We are very grateful to the drivers who helped us and also the patients who showed patience and understanding about the problems.

“We had to postpone regular visits for some people, so inevitably there is a backlog which our teams are working on.”

St Nicholas Hospice Care said advance planning helped it to keep disruption to a minimum.

Debra Garside, Clinical Services Director, said: “Thanks to this advance planning and everyone’s determination to pull together, we were able to continue supporting people at the hospice and in their own homes.”

Debra added there was limited disruption, with the hospice having ‘no choice’ but to cancel some of its community support groups.

A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) thanked staff and volunteers who ‘went above and beyond’ last week.

“The treacherous road conditions made it challenging for our staff to reach some patients,” he added.

Meanwhile, the only bins collected in the county during the snow were in West Suffolk, thanks to waste crews which braved severe weather conditions.

Cllr Peter Stevens, St Edmundsbury cabinet member for operations said: “I want to recognise the commitment of our crews who really stood for everything our council is here to do. They got to every customer humanly possible and were out lending a hand where they could.

“We hope the households we missed understand why it happened. We have now moved the collection cycle on which means the next collection for any missed bins won’t be until next week.”

Anyone having difficulties with blue bin space can call on 01638 763233 for recycling sacks.



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