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7th Aug 2019
A team of nurses who created a tool to help healthcare professionals communicate with people unable to speak has won a prestigious award.
Alice Waddington, Eve Hesketh and Emily Kavanagh, who recently finished their nursing degree at Edge Hill University in Lancashire, won the Andrew Parker Student Nurse category of the RCNi Nurse Awards 2019. The award was sponsored by the Royal College of Nursing.
Inspired by a mum’s story of how her daughter was unable to communicate with healthcare professionals, the learning disability nursing students began teaching Makaton, a form of sign language, in workshops they delivered to their peers.
The team decided to create a communication tool for healthcare professionals to use in practice. They printed, cut out, laminated and cut out again 300 sets of Makaton signs and symbols to provide to the new cohort of students about to start at Edge Hill University. They then threaded each set onto a metal ring that can be attached to a lanyard.
‘It took us around four weeks, coming into university, sitting at a desk 9am to 5pm and sometimes as late as 8pm to get them ready in time,’ says Ms Kavanagh. ‘This was all while we were writing assignments, attending lectures and out on placement. It was a struggle, but Alice’s story kept us going.’
The Makaton Charity was so impressed it put the communication aid on its website. It has been downloaded more than 7,500 times.
All three students have recently qualified. Ms Hesketh and Ms Kavanagh have roles at Manchester Children’s Hospital and Alder Hey in Liverpool respectively. Ms Waddington has a role in a community learning disability team.
Amanda Glennon, whose child Alice inspired the students to create the Makaton tool, says: ‘It is such a fantastic idea and I was so pleased to hear they had spent weeks making so many sets to share with their peers.
‘I am so grateful to these nurses for supporting and helping Alice, and hundreds and hundreds of children and adults like her who really have to find their voice.
‘I recently went to an appointment with my daughter and Alice handed the cards to her paediatrician, who then added to the notes that they would learn the signs by our next appointment. Alice, finally, will have an appointment with a healthcare professional who can use her language.’
Makaton Charity chief executive Stephen Hall says the cards are a ‘vital aid’. ‘We are thrilled with the work Eve, Alice and Emily have done to develop and promote the Makaton healthcare cards to support those with communication difficulties,’ he says.
‘Makaton transforms the lives of those with communication difficulties by giving them a way to express themselves independently, which is proven to overcome frustration and promote inclusion.’
Lynda Carey, senior lecturer in strategic and operational leadership at the university’s faculty of health and social care, says the students’ drive and ambition to make a difference is inspiring.
‘They have worked tirelessly, embracing innovative and creative use of social media to spread their work and engage with a wide and diverse population. Furthermore, thanks to their support and promotion of the #Hellomynameis Makaton campaign, this has become embedded in practice in all nursing programmes, with all lecturers and students now proficient and ambassadors of change.
‘By developing the learning disability champions, they have supported adult, child and mental health students to develop their knowledge, challenge their beliefs and develop an inclusive approach to their practice.’
Judge Kath McCourt CBE says: ‘The team’s use of Makaton throughout the presentation to the judges showed their intense desire to ensure that inclusive communication can be established.
‘The simply designed tool can be used by anyone and the work of the team across social media, university groups and clinical settings demonstrated its desire to enhance the lives of clients and families.’
RCNi managing director Rachel Armitage says: ‘Nurses in all areas are increasingly under pressure but they still deliver exceptional innovation and outstanding, compassionate patient care day in, day out.
‘The RCNi Nurse Awards are a chance to recognise the achievements of nurses like Emily, Eve and Alice and showcase nursing excellence.’
The profession’s top accolade for nursing excellence attracted almost 700 entries this year.
Alder Hey Children's Charity