Photo shows Karen and Natalie

Nursing students Karen Vernon and Natalie Matthews are included on the Student Innovation in Practice shortlist at the 2019 Student Nursing Times Awards

A team of Edge Hill University Nursing students have been nominated for a national award.

Karen Vernon from Southport and Natalie Matthews from Warrington have been included on the Student Innovation in Practice shortlist for the 2019 Student Nursing Times Awards, which take place at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel in 26 April.

They are among eight nominees from the University, represented across five categories.

Their ‘Are You A Veteran?’ campaign highlights the growing mental health issues being faced by ex-Armed Forces personnel in society, flagging them to relevant support networks.

From a forces background, Karen enjoyed a successful career in IT before taking a career break, to bring up four children. Relevant experience was built up through voluntary work and fostering before she turned to nursing.

A mentor for a veteran charity, Karen was inspired to undertake the ‘Are You A Veteran?’ project having had first-hand experience of the issues facing ex-forces personnel from helping look after her father-in-law, a Grenadier Guard recovering from a stroke who also has early onset Dementia.

“Whilst talking to other veterans, I realised that there was a gap in the support needed when they reach crisis point”, she noted. “Someone I know is a ‘hidden veteran’, he served in The Kings Regiment in hostile environments. He experienced many horrific circumstances that have caused him to suffer with mental health issues and needing support, although was not accessing this due to stigma.

“I want to support those suffering in crisis and not being able to find a way to access immediate support. Often those from the armed forces will not talk about mental health problems. They can go on a downward spiral, with psychosocial issues causing family break-ups, loss of home, finance problems, job loss and they end up homeless. The elderly veterans with the onset of dementia can re-live the emotions and experiences they had whilst in the forces.

“Winning this award would mean so much to us, as it would enable our project to gain nationwide publicity and awareness. It would be an amazing achievement to add to my personal development profile, showcasing skills for employment opportunities once qualified.”

The team have known each other for two years, having started their degrees at the same time. They both became Student Quality Ambassadors (SQAs), from which their project was devised. They also worked with local charity Veterans in Sefton (VIS) to access people who needed support.

“They are supported by the local council and MOD, working with the Armed Forces Covenant to provide the best ‘wrap-around’ support, including helping with housing, finance and mental health support. They raise awareness of veterans, through GP surgeries and within hospitals, to enable staff to recognise them and know why they are important and how they can direct them for immediate support, key for meeting physical and mental health needs.”

The duo utilise social media as an effective tool, to increase communication and understanding about issues particularly close to veterans and their families.

The challenges of initiating long-term sustainability in the project means there has been a lot of behind-the-scenes work.

“We have spent a lot of time writing business proposals, campaigning at events and presenting our project and ideas which is over and above our studies and busy family lives.

“Mersey Care NHS Trust have taken onboard our project to begin focusing on their own internal processes and we are pleased that we have instigated further discussion on how they can improve their support services.  We would now like to go to NHS England and the MOD to discuss our campaign and have them instigate our ideas nationwide.”

Karen, who hopes to develop and continue the project post-degree, is grateful for the support received from Edge Hill University’s SQA lecturers and peers, and takes pride in how far-reaching the project could go.

Find out more about studying nursing at Edge Hill University here.