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Western success at RCN Northern Ireland Nurse of the Year Awards 2024


Heather Finlay.Oonagh Andrews.Cahal Bradley.Rita Devlin
Heather Finlay, Oonagh Andrews, Cahal Bradley, Rita Devlin

Several local nurses from have won awards at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Northern Ireland Nurse of the Year Awards 2024 held at the Culloden Hotel, Holywood recently.

Teresa Frazer, from Derry/Londonderry, won the Learning in Practice Award, sponsored by the Open University. Teresa, who is Practice Educator in the Western Trust has been integral to the rebuilding and stabilisation of the Trust’s trauma and orthopaedics service at Altnagelvin Hospital. Closed for two years, the ward had 19 registered nursing vacancies when it reopened. A key element in rebuilding the staffing was the recruitment of internationally educated nurses who have been supported by Teresa throughout their journey. Her nominator says: “Teresa is constantly available to staff in the team to address their learning and other professional development needs”. The judging panel commended Teresa’s passion and enthusiasm, and for promoting safe and effective nursing care.

Brendan McGrath, from Omagh is Assistant Director of Nursing in the Western Trust, was runner up in the Directors of Nursing Award. Brendan was nominated for his leading role regionally and locally in reducing reliance on off-contract nursing agencies. This has resulted in new guidance which has been implemented across Northern Ireland enabling the sustained cessation of off-contract agency usage by all HSC trusts. His nominator praises Brendan’s engaging leadership style and ability to build consensus amongst colleagues while the judging panel praised Brendan’s experience and leadership of a complex issue.

Aneica Duffy jointly won the CNO Rising Star Award sponsored by the Department of Health. Aneica works in a busy surgical ward in Altnagelvin Hospital, providing a high standard of care to patients and supporting other staff and students. In addition, she is a proud advocate for the stoma community. Through her own journey with ill health, she has made a difference for others who have a stoma, sharing her experiences with patients, offering advice and reassurance and has established a local support group for patients which she runs in her own time. Recently, Aneica has become involved with Queen’s University in providing education on her lived experience with inflammatory bowel disease and stoma care. Her nominator says: “Aneica is a credit to the nursing profession. She always looks after patients to a high standard and is passionate about doing so. For a woman who is less than two years qualified, she is making a huge difference to all her patients but, in particular, to those with IBD and stomas.”

Laura Mitchell from Donemana was runner-up in the Public Health Award, sponsored by the Public Health Agency. The area served by the Western Trust includes many of the most deprived communities in Northern Ireland. In her role as a child health assistant in the Western Trust, Laura works with families and communities to address these inequalities and has facilitated various initiatives to reduce isolation and loneliness for new mothers. A representative of Minding Mums describes Laura as “an invaluable help and support to our project and a credit to her team” while her nominator says that “The success of these groups can be attributed to Laura’s kind and caring nature, making everyone feel welcome. She will help anyone when asked but can recognise the need without being asked.”

April Canning from Derry was runner up in the Student Award, sponsored by Queen’s University. A final year student nurse at Ulster University, April was nominated for her involvement in a variety of projects ranging from caring for people living with cancer and learning disabilities to being a peer mentor for an international student from Nigeria. The judging panel commended April’s academic excellence and outstanding overall contribution as a student nurse while her nominator describes April as: person-centred, engaging, enthusiastic and an amazing role model for peers and colleagues.

Oonagh Andrews, won the Team Manager Award, sponsored by the HSC Clinical Education Centre and Business Services Organisation. Based in Omagh, Oonagh is Sister in the Rapid Response Team and was nominated for her excellent communication skills and support for staff and students. Ensuring they can develop their skills and knowledge, Oonagh helps staff take ownership of their work and always listens sympathetically to problems. Staff retention is high and absenteeism low. Her nominator describes how Oonagh’s visible leadership style has a positive influence and staff respect one another and work together for a common goal of patient-centred care. The judging panel noted Oonagh’s passion for supporting other staff and how her leadership style brings out the best in her colleagues.

Melaine Stronge, from Clabby, Fivemiletown jointly won the Health Care Support Worker Award. Melaine works in the Rapid Response Team looking after patients with life-limiting conditions in the community who require blood products, ensuring that the process is as seamless and comfortable as possible. The impact of her care is shown through many testimonials from families describing her gentleness and kindness during difficult moments.

Melaine’s nominator describes her as

“an exceptional health care assistant, an amazing colleague and service advocate, making an invaluable contribution to the team, wider organisation, patients and families”.

The overall winner of the RCN Northern Ireland Nurse of the Year Award 2024 was Edith Donnelly, an advanced nurse practitioner based in the Southern Trust who was awarded for her work in improving care for patients with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF).

Edith recognised a gap in service provision for people living with HFpEF and identified the need to treat them early. She has made an immeasurable impact on this group of patients who are now being correctly diagnosed with Edith providing holistic and person-centred assessment, treatment, education and follow-up. Patients are experiencing lower hospital admissions and a better quality of life as a result. Many of these patients would otherwise have gone unrecognised and undertreated.

Edith’s nominator says that patients feel able to engage with her service and make decisions about their care and says Edith

“worked tirelessly and passionately for this group of patients, seeing the human story behind every person who walked through her door”, practising “with knowledge, compassion and empathy”.

Professor Donna Fitzsimons from Queen’s University, Belfast won the prestigious Kathleen Robb Award for outstanding contribution to nursing, sponsored by the Northern Ireland Practice and Education Council.

Health Minister Mike Nesbitt paid tribute to the nursing profession. He said:

“I want to thank all of you for your contribution to our health service and I am delighted to pay tribute to some of the extraordinary individuals within the nursing profession. You play such a positive role in the lives of so many here in Northern Ireland.

“Your hard work fully deserves the recognition that this awards ceremony brings and I was truly honoured to be part of the RCN Nurse of the Year celebrations. I and my department are committed to supporting and valuing our nurses and health care support workers, and providing them with the respect, resources and recognition they so rightfully deserve.”

RCN Northern Ireland Executive Director, Rita Devlin added:

“Edith has made a huge impact in leading and developing this service for patients with this type of heart failure. This nurse-led service is an outstanding example of the ways in which nurses across Northern Ireland are providing services which they have designed, and which are improving patient care. Edith’s commitment to her patients is inspirational.

“Each year these awards showcase the skills and expertise we have in Northern Ireland and how nursing staff are striving to deliver the highest quality care and service to patients.

“Many congratulations to all our finalists who have demonstrated the very best of nursing in Northern Ireland.”