Kim Barstow talks to us about life after winning the ‘Nursing Times’ Rising Star award

Kim Barstow, a staff nurse from South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust, won the 2012 Nursing Times’ Rising Star award. Since then her passion and dedication to nursing hasn’t gone unnoticed – she delivered her award winning dementia presentation at The Florence Nightingale Foundation Conference 2013, which brought the audience to tears and also presented it to the NHS Professionals’ senior management team.

We spoke to Kim to find out about her journey since winning the prestigious award and to learn more about her drive for dementia awareness in England.

Kim Barstow

 How did it feel to win the Rising Star Award?

I was so shocked to find out that I had been nominated, let alone to have won! The matron on my ward, Beth Swanson, had nominated me and I didn’t have a clue. It was completely unexpected, as for me, all I was doing was my job. I had a brilliant night, it was so far away from anything I’ve ever experienced in my life; I felt like I was at the Oscars! I accepted the award on behalf of my team as we have all worked really hard to shape things to improve dementia awareness.

Can you tell us about what you were nominated for and your work with the Alzheimer’s Society?

The main aspect was changing the whole approach to treating patients with dementia. We were trying to move away from the first region of anti-psychotic medication, which was over sedating individuals.  We’ve tried to move away from that by implementing other initiatives such as, “This is me” – the Alzheimer’s Society’s recommended assessment document, on the ward to tell the patient’s life story. Implementing this has acted as a catalyst for cultural change in which patients and their life stories are central to care planning and delivery.

Through research I looked at why people with dementia behave the way that they do, and developed something different that they could make a connection with. So, more often than not I would do something that was emotional to them, so they wouldn’t forget that incident when they go out there in the future. The carers develop individual care plans; we also created memory boxes containing items such as sewing kits, old photographs, playing cards and dominoes, which could be used as a distraction, calming influence or discussion aid.

Once we have an insight into the life of an individual with dementia, I do one-to-one sessions with them. For instance, if someone used to do a lot of baking in their life, I would buy some play dough and rolling pins to help reduce agitation or anxiety. By getting them to do little activities it has helped them remain calm and at ease and it also helps them with the healing process.

Was the research you did part of a qualification you were working towards?

No, I did it just to try and improve care, but I am now in my first year of university doing my masters, which will involve me researching dementia. Originally there was no educational motive behind it; it was just a case of me thinking ‘what do I need to know to improve care’?

What has your journey been like since winning the award?

I have been incredibly busy because I took on another post with the dementia strategy team, which I have been doing two days a week since October. Plus, I still do my job as a staff nurse on the wards, running the dementia initiatives and also further developing this with the doctors in the Trust. I have been raising awareness with the doctors around dementia and the impact of anti-psychotic medication, so rather than just prescribing it, we look at the risks and try to think about this differently.

You have been in high demand to present your dementia awareness presentation, how did that make you feel?

I was really nervous at both the Florence Nightingale Foundation Conference and also presenting in front of the NHS Professionals’ management team because there were so many senior people there and I’m just a nurse, but it was really good to get the message across. I am always very nervous when I give presentations, but I will go through that if it means getting the awareness of dementia out there. Both presentations went down really well and I was approached by a few people whose family members had experienced dementia. One even felt guilty, which was not my intention, but if you don’t know about dementia you will feel guilty in a sense, because if you’d have known about the background and how to deal with it, then you may have done something differently. That’s the whole point of the presentation though and by raising awareness hopefully people will be more informed.

How did you first develop your interest in dementia?

I think it stemmed from me realising the vulnerability of the patients and where that came from. Staff were being hit by the patients, while the patients were being put on anti-psychotic medicine. I didn’t like seeing this and thought there must be another way of dealing with this, so I decided to do something about it.

Is there anything that people find particularly surprising when you do your presentation?

I don’t tend to talk about the science behind dementia; I focus more on illusions and pictures that people are able to make a connection with. I’ll refer to dementia as brain damage, because more often than not people don’t think it’s a physical problem that’s going on, which people can find quite shocking. The illusions, pictures and quizzes really help people imagine what it is like to live with dementia. For example, I’ll ask some light hearted questions such as “what do you put in a toaster?” and they’ll respond with “toast”. When somebody with dementia is trying to tell you something it usually comes out wrong and it has a different meaning – the brain has then done one thing but it’s coming out as something completely different. These activities make the audience realise what it’s like to have the dementia and they’ve proven to be very effective.

The Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt’s plan is for two thirds of dementia sufferers to be identified and given appropriate support by 2015. What more could be done for dementia awareness in England?

I think the problem is the stigma around dementia; people often see end stage dementia where patients may be aggressive, but people don’t understand that those are the late stages. Not everybody is like that until the later stages and we need to show people the process of the brain damage there. We also need to support our carers because they do a marvellous job and aren’t as supported as they should be. Dementia has been mentioned a lot in the media recently and it’s important for us to strike while the iron’s hot and continue to promote awareness. We also need to inform people that dementia is not just an old age disease, anybody is at risk of getting it, and although it is quite rare there are still a significant number of people under 65 with dementia.

What are the local attitudes to dementia like in your area?

I’d like to say it’s a positive one but it’s not. People don’t see it as a problem; dementia is something you get when you get old. People have a really negative attitude towards it and don’t see the person behind the disease. I’m determined, with so many others, to try and change these negative attitudes, but again that comes down to trying to change culture and belief.

“NHS Professionals is extremely proud to co-sponsor the Rising Star award at the Nursing Times Awards and promote the outstanding work that nurses like Kimberly are doing across the UK”, Anne O’Brien, Director of Clinical Governance and Operations.

About the author

NHS Professionals administrator

NHS Professionals manages the temporary staffing needs of around 66 NHS Trusts across England. An integral part of the NHS, it aims to reduce Trusts’ spending on flexible workers without compromising quality, by providing greater transparency of demand and supplying bank staff at the best possible rate. Its bank of more than 40,000 flexible workers comprises general and specialist nurses, doctors, midwives, admin/clerical , allied health professionals, healthcare scientists, support services among other healthcare professionals.

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