South Eastern Trust success at RCN Northern Ireland Nurse of the Year 2022

24th June 2022
Pictured (L-R) are Rita Devlin, Director RCN Northern Ireland, Sharon McRoberts, Winner of the Directors of Nursing Award and Brenda Creaney, Director of Nursing, Belfast HSC Trust.

A number of local nurses from the South Eastern Trust have won awards at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Northern Ireland Nurse of the Year Awards 2022 held recently in the Culloden Hotel, Holywood.

Sharon McRoberts from Conlig won the Directors of Nursing Award. With lead responsibility for nursing regulation, workforce planning, education and development in the South Eastern Trust, Sharon was nominated for her leadership and passion for nursing. She was praised for leading the move to regional recruitment for nursing students, being the regional lead for international nurse recruitment and for setting up a COVID swabbing service and helpline in the initial phase of the pandemic.

Fiona Linehan, from Downpatrick, won the Brownlee-Silverdale Leadership Award. As lead nurse for Hydebank Wood Secure College and now Clinical Nurse Manager for healthcare in the Prison Service, Fiona has worked tirelessly to improve standards of nursing care in an extremely complex setting, improving outcomes for patients and staff. Under Fiona’s leadership, self-harm has reduced and patients are more engaged than before. The COVID infection control and vaccination programme has been recognised as one of the most successful within a prison environment anywhere in the world.

Anne Gordon, from Drumaness, won the Learning in Practice Award sponsored by the Open University. Anne, who is a clinical educator in mental health, was awarded for her work with nursing students on placement and ensuring they have a positive experience. Anne said: “We have stresses and challenges every day but this is an amazing profession to work within. I am a proud mental health nurse and will do everything within my role to support our staff and students.”

Denise Lyons (from Belfast) won the Inspiring Excellence in Mental Health, Addiction and Intellectual Disability Award, sponsored by Inspire. Denise was nominated for leading the production of Biz in the Pris, a comic which informs staff and young people in custody of the dangers of recreational drug use and the experience of addiction. The young men involved in the publication have gained skills transferable to other areas of life and the number of incidents relating to self-harm and overdoses has fallen since the launch of the comic book.

Liz McCormick, from Newtownards, was runner-up in the Brownlee Silverdale Leadership Award. Nurse Locality Manager in the South Eastern Trust, Liz was rewarded for quickly organising support for a local nursing home during April 2020 when a shortage of staff due to COVID-19, could have left many frail and vulnerable patients without care.

Sandra Smyth, Senior Nursing Assistant in the South Eastern Trust’s district nursing team was runner-up in the Health Care Support Worker Award, sponsored by LV. Sandra was rewarded for the invaluable support she provided to the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

Tracey Gibney, from Bangor, was runner-up in the Learning in Practice Award. Tracy was nominated for her role in the development and implementation of an international nurse recruitment programme to address staffing vacancies in the South Eastern Trust. Working tirelessly to support the participants, Tracy developed learning materials which allowed the nurses to study at their own pace with assignments completed and submitted online. 302 nurses have now passed the NMC Objective Structured Clinical Examination with a 100% pass rate.

Gary Rutherford, a mental health nurse, won the overall RCN Northern Ireland Nurse of the Year Award 2022 for his work through the Addiction Recovery Service (ARC). Gary was presented with the award by Health Minister, Robin Swann.

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.

Mary Hinds won the Kathleen Robb Award for Outstanding Contribution to Nursing, sponsored by NIPEC.

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.

“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.”