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With its large population of older people, Dorset has one of the highest incidences of leg ulcers in the UK – and yet just 20 years ago, it didn’t have a specialist service to tackle the problem.
Today, thanks to the passion and commitment of NHS Specialist Nurse Val Reynolds, the picture is very different. Dorset HealthCare runs leg ulcer clinics across the county, with a current weekly caseload of more than 200 people.
And the service marks its 20th anniversary this week with a special conference in Poole, with guest speakers including Joy Tickle, a Tissue Viability Nurse Specialist who has appeared on Channel 4’s ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ programme.
Leg ulcers have many causes, most commonly when patient has a history of varicose veins or deep vein thrombosis, as well as intravenous drug use. It is a chronic condition and can lead to life-changing complications.
Back in 1997, there was no specialist treatment service available in Dorset, but Val – then a District Nurse – was determined to change that.
“There was a dearth of guidance, training and support locally,” she recalls. “I wanted to improve care for patients within Dorset to be in line with rest of the UK. I developed a business plan and persuaded my manager to release me for half an afternoon a week to run a leg ulcer clinic from Shelley Road in Boscombe.
“I also began teaching at Bournemouth University the following year, and established leg ulcer training across the county for nursing staff. The service has slowly grown from there.”
In 2008 the service significantly expanded, and now has almost 30 staff – including specialist nurses, healthcare assistants and administrative workers – providing care in all corners of the county.
The team offers specialist assessments and also continues to train district nurses, hospital staff, practice nurses and care home workers.
Leg ulcers can affect everyone from people in their 20s through to old age. Andy, 45, from Bournemouth, developed the problem eight years ago. Following various complications, his condition worsened and he was told his left leg would need to be amputated by the hospital.
But a year ago he began attending the Shelley Road clinic, and is now on the road to recovery.
“The pain was indescribable. I’d lost my mobility, and some days I couldn’t even get out of bed. The flesh on my ankles was rotting away, and a doctor said I would lose my leg,” he said.
“I never thought they would heal, but the leg ulcer team really turned things around. They know what they are doing, and explained what we needed to do. My quality of life is so much better now, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Val, who manages the service, said Andy’s problems are not uncommon.
“Leg ulcers can have a massive impact on people’s lives. People often avoid going out, which can result in them becoming withdrawn and depressed. Sadly, some patients have lost their jobs or seen it affect their marriages,” she explained.
“We provide consistent specialist care for patients every week, including dressings, bandaging, and advice. But most of all, it’s about working in partnership with patients, building a rapport and trust.
“We are proud of our healing rates but equally as important is ensuring we improve patients’ quality of life. Our conference on 8 November will celebrate our achievements so far, but also share good practice so we can improve in the future.”
If you have leg ulcer problems and would like to access this service, speak to your GP or other health care professional. For a full list of leg ulcer clinic locations, visit www.dorsethealthcare.nhs.uk/leg-ulcer-service