Ellen Trueman has just been named Britain’s top cancer nurse. Catherine Scott finds out what makes her so special
For Ellen Trueman, leaving her nursing job and cashing in her pension meant being able to spend seven months in Jamaica helping cancer patients.
“I’d spent a few weeks in 2008 volunteering as a radiotherapy nurse in a hospital in Jamaica and decided that I really wanted to do more.
“The only way I could afford to go back for any length of time was to take early retirement and use that money to fund my trip.”
Ellen says the experience of working in Jamaica was invaluable in terms of her personal and professional development.
“People there are just grateful to wake up every morning,” she explains.
“Unless you can pay to go private you don’t have access to the same treatments we have here.”
Ellen, who has since returned to nursing and is now sister at Leeds’s St James’s Institute of Oncology Radiotherapy Department in the Bexley Wing, has just been named as “Cancer Nurse Leader of the Year”
She beat competition from five other cancer nurses from across the UK to scoop the award, which was organised by Nursing Times and handed over at a glittering ceremony in London.
Ellen said: “I was surprised and delighted when I found out I had been shortlisted for this prestigious award and absolutely thrilled to win.
“This is a real honour, that reflects on the whole team and our commitment to ensuring radiotherapy nursing continues to develop as a speciality in its own right. It is particularly fitting to win this award during 2011, the Year of Radiotherapy.”
Ellen took up nursing when she was 36 and as soon as she qualified she knew that she wanted to work with cancer patients.
“It can be very sad yet an extremely fulfilling area to work in,” she explains.
“You are there to try to make a difference to what’s happening to that patient and you have to get it right first time.”
Ellen says one of her jobs is to ensure that people understand the positive side of radiotherapy.
“In the past people made presumptions about the treatment and the side-effects, but technology has moved on such a lot that we need to try to work to dispel those misconceptions.”
Ellen and her team work with every patient under-going radiotherapy at St James’s in the outpatient department.
“It may mean we see someone every day if they need to see us, or may be once a week – what ever there needs are.”
It is the second award the team has won in the last few weeks as they received an award for a skincare package they developed for patients.
The judging panel said: “ Ellen has demonstrated leadership through championing radiotherapy nursing and driving improvements that have combined to improve patient experience.
“These include developing a skincare toolkit for management of radiotherapy reactions, working on innovative skincare dressings and organising annual radiotherapy nursing conferences.
“Ellen has also addressed privacy and dignity by opening a facility in the radiotherapy department that enables patients who require supportive care while in the department, including those who are acutely unwell, to be nursed appropriately in an outpatient setting.
“She has also worked as a volunteer nurse in Jamaica, sharing her knowledge and expertise to enable further development of oncology and palliative care services there”.
Ruth Holt, chief nurse at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals, added: “This award is a well-deserved recognition of the leadership Ellen provides and the fantastic work she and the team are doing to help improve care for our patients.”
Northern nurses scoop awards
Teams and individuals from the NHS in the north of England swept the board at the Nursing Times awards, taking first prize in eight of the categories.
Leeds nurse Ellen Trueman was awarded the title of cancer nurse of the year, Lancashire Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust’s Tracy Earley was named nurse of the year.
A further nine hospitals trusts and PCTs from the north were highly-commended in their categories, and there were 56 finalists from the north of England at the awards ceremony at the Hilton Hotel, London, on November 2.