Monthly Archives: May 2015

Food safety

As May now turns into June, you could be thinking about dusting off the barbecue. As I look outside the window, it’s grey and raining, so maybe you’ll not be doing this today!  But talking about food safety, and how to avoid falling into the pitfalls of a nasty tummy upset because of incorrectly cooked or handled food, is worth doing before things have had chance to go wrong.  I see too many patients in my surgery with episodes of diarrhoea and vomiting caused by campylobacter and other food borne causes of gastroenteritis. The most likely way to get the infection is by eating raw or only partially cooked meat, and barbecue cooking with the tendency for food to char on the outside and look cooked, but not actually be cooked properly through to the middle, can be a common culprit.

You also have to be careful when touching or handling raw meat as hands, surfaces, and utensils can easily become contaminated.  Hand washing before cooking, after handling raw meat, and before eating, are all really simple things to do to reduce the risk of infection. I think word is spreading that we should not be washing chickens under the tap prior to cooking or roasting, as this is a really easy way to ‘splash’ the infection around the kitchen.   My family complain that I like my meat ‘very well done’, but at least it reduces the risks and makes carving a much easier job! Apologies to vegetarians for this meat focus,  but actually most causes of gastroenteritis are caused by viruses spread from person-to-person close contact, when people have not washed their hands well enough and  then prepared food,  or touched surfaces  or coughed and sneezed to spread stuff – so it affects us all! But  simply hand washing  can prevent all sorts.

Governing Body Meeting

As we look forward to a Bank Holiday weekend and for many what will be a week’s half term holiday from school next week we may be making plans .

I should take this opportunity to invite you to our Governing Body meeting that is being held on Wednesday 27th May 2015 at The Resource Centre, Meath Street, Middlesbrough, TS1 4RZ, starting at 2pm. The meeting is open to the public but we do need you to register in advance to attend so that we can ensure we set up the room to appropriately. If you would like to attend please email in advance of the meeting.

The papers are available on our website under the governing body section. Some of the items to be discussed include the CCG strategic aims and corporate objectives, the draft annual report which will be presented and patient feedback from the stoke early supported discharge service,  but please look at the agenda for the full list of discussion and decision topics. I am not anticipating many school or college pupils will be keen to attend however we are looking at how we get younger people aware of what happens at the CCG and how we can get them involved to capture their thoughts and feelings about health care that affects them.  If this applies to YOU or you know someone who might be interested then please get in touch. We are looking at the best ways to do this but you (or your children or grandchildren) may have a better idea and it would be good to hear about it.

Mental health awareness

Life can be full of ups and downs for all of us. At times of stress and pressure feeling nervous or anxious can be completely normal.

Many of us can remember what its like before an exam or an interview. However, many people have symptoms of anxiety on a daily basis, feelings of panic that can prevent them from leading a full life, and be so severe as to prevent them from being able to leave the house. Similarly we can all feel sad when difficult things happen to us or those around us, but when patients tell me about what it feels like to live with depression they can describe a much darker, hopeless, helpless place in which they feel trapped.

The message is spreading into our everyday lives that mental health is just as important as physical health, and indeed overall wellbeing is influenced by both mental and physical factors. Anxiety and depression are really common with one in four of us requiring help with this at some point in our lives and this could well be an under estimation.  Talking about how we feel may not be a very British thing to do but why don’t we talk about it in the bus queue?

I was very moved by the media coverage of the Stranger on the Bridge story which featured a young man planning to take his own life who was talked back to safety by a stranger. It is no coincidence that this story is around now as it is Mental Health awareness week (11-17th May) and this years’ focus is mindfulness. Mindfulness is an evidence-based, self-management technique which helps people monitor the way they think and feel about their everyday life and experiences.

At the clinical commissioning group we are really committed to raising awareness of the talking therapy support (psychological therapy) available now across Teesside. You can refer yourself, you don’t have to see a GP. Go to  for more information.

We are also developing our mental health strategy and are very keen to have patient and public involvement with this. Visit our website for more information and how to be involved.

Celebrating International Nurses Day 2015

This year International Nurses Day, 12th May, is focusing on ‘Why I Nurse’. To celebrate we have met with several Nurses who work within South Tees, to delve into what motivates and inspires them to take on, arguably, one of the most important jobs in the world.

Beth Swanson is a Lead Nurse/Project Manager for Dementia at James Cook University Hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. In the theme of ‘Why I Nurse’ here’s what Elizabeth had to say:

‘I wanted to be a nurse from the age of 15, when I visited someone in hospital and saw how rewarding the nursing job is. Yet, it was only in the first year of being a nurse that I realised I’d made the right decision – which I was doing what I wanted to do – that I really enjoyed it and it is a privilege to nurse.’

Beth’s career so far has seen her work in several areas from elderly care, acute medicine, cardiology; liver transplant… the list goes on. So how does a nurse find their specialist area?

‘I manage the dementia education team and my role links into South Tees Clinical Commissioning Group, as I sit on the dementia collaborative board. My role is about influencing and monitoring what’s going on in the real world effectively.’

My extensive work as a matron has led to the experience I have gained to date, nursing really is specialist and there are a lot of highly qualified nurses. The complexity of senior nursing roles can involve looking after lots of patients with complex problems where you have to be highly skilled and trained. I’m proud to be a part of this profession; most nurses have a Masters or even a PHD, the level of commitment and skills nurses have is incredible.’

So what inspired Beth to focus her skills and training in Dementia care?

‘Everybody has a duty to know about dementia, because when you think about it, most people know somebody who either has dementia or is caring for someone with dementia. That’s why we’re training Hospital staff on dementia; we’ve trained 4000 out of 9000 staff so far. It teaches there are lots of things we can do as a community to make things easier and better for people with dementia – we can improve their quality of life.’

With a career which spans over two decades, Beth looks back over her career highlights; ‘There are two types of highlight, there’s one where you win an award or prize… But then, there’s the day to day highlights – when you nurse a patient – when you get a smile and you know what you’ve done has made a difference, that is the ultimate highlight for me.’

So with that in mind, what advice does Beth give for those thinking of nursing? ‘It is hard work, it is physically demanding and mentally hard at times and it takes all your skills… I think you’ve got to want to do it and enjoy it.’


Helen Robinson, Dementia Clinical Educator, tells us why she chose a career in nursing:

‘When I first started nursing I was going to change the world, I had these massive ideas about how I could improve people’s lives. I was particularly interested in palliative and end of life care, which inspired me to go into nursing.’

With next week being Dementia Awareness Week, we asked Helen how we can raise awareness of dementia? ‘To raise awareness we have to talk about it. A basic education and understanding is needed. Although there are mental health aspects with dementia, it isn’t a mental health illness it is a physical condition’

Similarly to Beth, Helen agrees nursing can be challenging. ‘A lot of the time people can hear the word dementia and they can have negative connotations. It’s about making people see the positives of how people can live a great quality of life with dementia.’

With many nurse led clinics and nurse led pathways, nurses are providing a leading role in our health service and care for patients.

So we asked Helen, why do you nurse?

‘Sometimes it’s very difficult, if a patient has no family and you are there at the end of their life, it’s like no other job, it is a privilege. Nurses are there at the beginning and end of lives. Nursing has allowed me to do so much more than I could ever imagine achieving.’

‘Nursing is demanding, it’s a lot of hard work and with difficult things to deal with it is essential to be a kind, caring and considerate person…

12 years later I still feel I can make a difference. I can nurse a patient and make their day better. It’s all about improving the quality of people’s lives.’

From taking the time to speak with Nurses who work across South Tees, there is a theme throughout, which is the passion and dedication our nurses have.

Amy Parkes, Dementia Clinical Educator, resonates the temperaments of her colleagues ‘When a patient passes away and you know you have provided them with dignity and care and you know they have been comfortable and not in pain, you know you have made a difference.’

Having only been in the nursing profession a short time, Amy suggests ‘Come and volunteer, see the day to day running. Ultimately experience what it is really like to care for another person. If you’re caring and willing to put in the work, it really is rewarding.’


Pam McNeice is an experienced Nurse Practitioner working within Normanby Medical Practice she is also the Clinical Lead for Learning Disabilities for South Tees CCG.  With a wealth of clinical experience she has worked across a wide range of clinical settings in Primary, Secondary and Community Services where she has gained a good knowledge of nursing at a clinical, strategic and operational level. Through her specialist interest in the health needs and quality of care for individuals

Spring has sprung

May is upon us and the nicer weather is a great opportunity to get outside and get active.

Spring really is springing into action with the trees coming into leaf and flowers blooming but this can mean a problem for many hay fever sufferers.

Common symptoms include frequent sneezing, runny or blocked nose, itchy, red or watery eyes, itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears and sometimes a cough caused by postnasal drip (mucus dripping down the throat from the back of the nose).

The time of year each sufferers’ symptoms start depends on the types of pollen you’re allergic to. The severity will vary from year to year and with the weather condition and the pollen count. Help is at hand though. Your community pharmacist is able to advise on the full range of products available to ease your symptoms so why don’t you go in and chat to them.

If you take action early they can advise how best to try to prevent the symptoms. Bearing in mind we hopefully are going to get more sunshine over the weeks and summer to come, whilst you are in the pharmacy they could also advise on how best to protect your skin and that of your family against sunburn/sun damage. Skin cancers that are related to sun exposure are increasing and we all need to do more to protect ourselves to be able to safely enjoy being out and about.