Community ensures special nurse can carry on caring for dementia families

Fay Valentine

Honiton's Admiral Nurse Fay Valentine has earned high praise for her work - Credit: Tim Dixon

Honiton’s pioneering initiative to improve the lives of people living with dementia – and those who live with them – goes from strength to strength.

It is now two years since Admiral Nurse Fay Valentine began working with families in and around the town – her vital and inspiring work made possible by a community fundraising campaign supported by the Midweek Herald.

And now long-time supporters the Honiton Hospital and Community League of Friends have donated a further £100,000 to pay for another two years while the Honiton Admiral Nurse group has raised a further £50,000 – which means a second contract of three years can be offered.

Fay provides one-to-one support, expert guidance and practical solutions to some 135 individual cases involving dementia patients, their carers and their families. Her support is emotional, practical and clinical.

Referrals are made to Fay by GPs at Honiton Surgery and by local health and social care teams – and once a carer has been on Fay’s caseload they can self-refer in the future.

Fay then tailors the work she does with each client and carers according to individual needs.

She explained: “I might support them through an intense period and then discharge them or some might stay with me for longer periods.”

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Fay, who has been in nursing for 36 years, said the Admiral Nurse role was one of the most demanding. But she was “very lucky” to have voluntary support in her role. Honiton’s Memory Café team and Carers Support Group provide valuable assistance, enabling Fay to concentrate on the person whose need is greatest.

She said her role had “come into its own” during the covid-19 crisis.

“Covid impacted greatly on people with dementia. Many couldn’t understand it. The routine things they looked forward to and the socialisation – trips out, for example – were suddenly removed. These were the things that helped to keep them calm and suddenly they weren’t happening.

“Carers face very difficult and challenging times so the work of the Admiral Nurse is more important than ever.”

The work may be hard but it is rewarding. Here is one tribute recently paid to Fay: “I wish to commend Fay Valentine the ‘admirable’ Admiral Nurse. 

“Fay has been an incredible support these last few months to both myself and my husband, who sadly passed away recently. He lived valiantly with Alzheimer’s disease since his diagnosis in 2012. 

“The first lockdown completely destroyed our lovely daily routine. My husband loved company and going out to lunch.  The progression of the disease suddenly accelerated when these social activities were denied to us and earlier this year he had to go into a local care home.

“The care he received was second to none and Fay has been absolutely wonderful throughout these last distressing weeks.  Thank you also to Dementia Friendly Honiton for providing Honiton with such invaluable support.”

Heather Penwarden of Honiton Dementia Action Alliance, said: “We do of course want to pay tribute to our Honiton Admiral Nurse, Fay and the absolutely invaluable work she has been doing supporting families and carers of people looking after someone with dementia through this pandemic. 

“One of the greatest aspects of this community funded post is that Fay is able to work in a fully integrated way, crossing the boundaries of our health and care team, GP surgery, local care homes and all the voluntary and community groups who support people with dementia.

“With the funding provided from our League of Friends and the community donations through Dementia Friendly Honiton, we are working with our local community health and care team leaders to recruit a part time assistant for Fay to help her offer higher levels of support to people who have more complex needs.”

It was in 2017 that Honiton Dementia Action Alliance started working in partnership with Dementia UK, a national charity which provides specialist dementia support for families through their Admiral Nurse service, in order to bring an Admiral Nurse to Honiton.  

Admiral Nurses were named by the family of Joseph Levy CBE BEM, who founded the charity. Joseph had vascular dementia and was known affectionately as ‘Admiral Joe’ because of his love of sailing.  

By the summer of 2018, the community, bolstered by a generous donation from the Honiton Hospital League of Friends, had raised the £150,000 needed to fund an Admiral Nurse for three years.

Honiton’s Admiral Nurse is employed by the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust and is ‘co-located’ within the integrated health and social care team, based at Honiton Hospital.  In order to access the support of the Admiral Nurse, carers will need to ask their GP or a member of the health and social care team to make a formal referral to the service. To be eligible, the person with dementia or their carer needs to be registered with the Honiton Surgery.

Heather added: “Fay is over half way through her first contract of three years.  Recognising the value of Fay’s work,  the League of Friends trustees recently agreed to donate a further £100,000 for another two years and the Honiton Admiral Nurse group have raised a further £50,000 – thus allowing for a second contract of three years to be offered.  In total the  community of Honiton have donated £300,000 – six years’ worth – towards supporting families living with dementia through this Admiral Nurse post.

“We also have agreed to recruit a part time support worker to work alongside Fay, allowing her to spend more time where there are very complex situations to guide and support families through.”

Heather said: “Fay attends the Honiton Memory Café and the Honiton Carers group on a monthly basis for more informal chats with anyone affected by dementia in the Honiton and surrounding area.

“This vital support would not have been possible without the help of a weekly column in our local newspaper the Midweek Herald and our local community that have taken this cause to their hearts and minds and we have heard many examples of the different ways and reasons people have donated.

“Kicked off by our local barber Alan Rowe, we went on to receive donations from kind individuals and groups like the Honiton Lions, Awliscombe and Weston villages and the Honiton ladies golf team. The Beehive Community Centre donated the proceeds from a wonderful evening of Flanders and Swann songs and many supported collections we had at Honiton Leisure Centre and Honiton Tesco – and the Mega Christmas Raffle organised by Graham and Sue Smith.”

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