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Britain’s first deaf clinical psychologist hopes to inspire the next generation

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She has been an inspiration and one of her kind for almost 20 years. Now Britain’s first deaf clinical psychologist is hoping her journey can open the door to others.

Doctor Sara Rhys-Jones has led the way in breaking down barriers and changing perceptions and attitudes to get to where she is today at Swansea Bay University Health Board.

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She became Britain’s first deaf clinical psychologist in 2003 and remains the sole person qualified in that profession in Wales. This is something she hopes to change by telling her story.

“My journey into the profession was certainly daunting at first,” said Doctor Rhys-Jones.

“However, I am proud of this achievement and want to encourage more deaf people to take up psychology.

“There are now deaf clinical psychologists in the UK, but I would love to see another or more deaf psychologists in Wales by the time I think about retiring.

“I hope sharing my story will raise awareness that deaf people, with the right support, can become professionals in any field along with encouraging more deaf people to work in the healthcare profession.”

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It has not been a straight forward journey, but the experiences gained along the way have only strengthened her desire to progress.

Born profoundly deaf, Doctor Rhys-Jones was raised by a Welsh speaking family who had no experience of deafness.

Encouraged to read in order to develop lip-reading and speech skills at an early age, she had set her sights on becoming a clinical psychologist as a 16-year-old.

And whatever challenges she faced, the determination developed from an early age came to the fore.

“My parents instilled in me a strong belief not to let my deafness create barriers or prevent me from achieving my dreams,” she said.

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“As a teenager, I took a lot of joy working with young children, especially with the occasional deaf child I met during times when I volunteered at children’s festivals.

“It was at that point that knew I wanted to train as a psychologist to support deaf children, young people and adults.

“It really wasn’t easy at the start. I did a BA Hons in Applied Psychology at Cardiff University, but the department had no experience of supporting deaf students.

“I had a note-taker for some lectures and I read as much as possible to keep up with the course. My passion for the topic meant I had the drive to continue despite struggles at times due to being the only deaf student at the university at the time.”

A defining moment in her life came in the third year at university.

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A year’s work experience in Manchester at the John Denmark Unit – a specialist NHS mental health service for adult deaf people – introduced Doctor Rhys-Jones to deaf people and, significantly, British Sign Language (BSL).

“Despite being comfortable with the ‘hearing world’ and have wonderful hearing family and friends, there was something missing. During my time working in Manchester, I realised it was the absence of my Deaf identity,” she said.

“BSL fast became and continues to be my preferred communication for daily life and I finally felt complete.

“When I returned to Cardiff University, I arranged to have BSL interpreters for the rest of my course.

“For the first time at university, I had total access to what was happening at all times because with note-takers or trying to lip-read I had felt detached from the others.

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“My confidence really grew because I didn’t feel marginalised in society, as did my determination to be a clinical psychologist, to be trained to assess, diagnose and work with people with psychological difficulties and across all care settings.

“This field appealed to me the most because of the scope of clinical work and variety of care settings with the aim to reduce psychological distress and to enhance psychological well-being.”

Dr Sarah Rhys-Jones (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

After graduating in Cardiff in 1996, doctor Rhys-Jones was awarded the best undergraduate dissertation project, which focused on the theory of mind in deaf children.

She was also given the opportunity of a PhD scholarship at the university, which centred on deaf identity and attitudes towards regional differences in BSL.

To add another feather to her cap, she completed a diploma in social sciences research methodologies.

That all led to her first post – assistant psychologist at the Deaf Child and Family Service (now known as National Deaf Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) in London where she met influential deaf and hearing professionals in the field of deafness and mental health.

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She would take up her first job as a qualified clinical psychologist there following a three-year clinical psychology course at Salomons, Canterbury Christ Church University, where she was the first deaf person to be accepted onto the course.

Five years later, she returned to Wales by joining the Cardiff Community Support Team for Adults with Learning Disabilities – a position and department that fell under the health board’s responsibilities in Swansea Bay.

After a decade in Cardiff, she moved further west to take up the same role in Bridgend, where she continues to work under the same health board.

Key to her work is the use of BSL interpreters during appointments, who have proved crucial in not only ensuring the best communication possible with patients, but also in terms of the service delivered.

“I would not be able to provide effective psychology service to service users in generic mental health services without excellent, compassionate and committed co-workers – the BSL interpreters I worked with during my training, first job on qualifying and continue to work with,” she said.

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“I use the term ‘co-workers’ to illustrate the incredible working relationships I developed with my team of BSL interpreters, which have and continue to tremendously benefit service users we work with.

“Interpreting in the formal way – to simply translate spoken English into BSL and vice versa – was quickly discovered to create barriers with hearing service users because the warmth and affinity was missing between the interpreter and service user to aid therapeutic work.

“The therapeutic aspect of my clinical work with hearing service users was discovered to be substantially more effective if the interpreter and I reflected on the session afterwards to plan the next session.

“For instance, the words used by the service user and the seating arrangement to help people with autism or psychosis.

“In my clinical work with hearing service users, it’s important for the interpreter to convey the order and choice of words along with tone of voice when it occurs in the assessment or session and to inform me afterwards.

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“Similarly, it is important to me that the interpreter does not ‘repair’ unclear words and meaning.

“My enriching experiences with service users – deaf and hearing – all intensified my desire and passion to complete the training and to continue working as a clinical psychologist to this day.”

Dr Sarah Rhys-Jones (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Sara continues to promote BSL outside of her work, having helped produce a free online deaf wellbeing course called ACTivate Your Life.

Delivered in BSL, that helps deaf people to learn how to look after themselves, keep their minds and bodies well and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Her work was highlighted by a popular deaf blog – Limping Chicken – who published the video and an accompanying article.

And it is that effort, commitment and desire to help that makes her such a popular and respected colleague.

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“Sara has indeed challenged stereotypes around individuals with a disability in her career path as a clinical psychologist,” said consultant clinical psychologist Clare Trudgeon, who is Sara’s line manager within the team.

“Training in clinical psychology is highly competitive and demanding, and practicing as a clinical psychologist is a challenging role.

“Working within a learning disability setting is a particularly challenging role due to the presenting needs of the client group and her need to work at all times though interpreters.

“Sara makes a difference on a daily basis to the lives of those who can be less visible in society but who are often in greatest need of psychological expertise to support them and their carers to live meaningful and successful lives.”

Sara added: “There were a number of hurdles and barriers I had to overcome, but the satisfaction of achieving my childhood ambition of helping others has made it all worthwhile.

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“I’ve proved that deaf clinicians can work with hearing clients using regular BSL interpreters, while also bringing a different insight and knowledge in clinical work with deaf service users.

“Now I hope to see more deaf clinicians qualify, and for Wales to have more than one deaf clinical psychologist and healthcare professionals.”

(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Dance

Doctors prescribe dance classes to keep patients on their feet

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Over 65s in Swansea Bay are being encouraged to attend dance classes in a bid to keep them on their feet.

Five of the health board’s clusters – groups of GP surgeries working together within a geographical area – are backing the scheme as the exercise to music is proven to aid falls prevention.

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Each class is led by a trained dance teacher with participants encouraged to follow a range of routines, designed to develop their strength and balance, with the option of using a chair for support if their mobility is limited.

The Dance for Health programme is a collaboration between the health board, clusters, local authorities, and Aesop, an arts focused charity.

Alyson Pugh, Programme Manager at Aesop, said: “We are delighted to be working with our partners in the health sector to improve the health and wellbeing of people aged over 65 through the medium of dance.

“During each class participants will move to a variety of music from all around the world. The classes are fun and vibrant, increasing fitness, mobility and strength.

“Afterwards, participants will have a good chance to get to know one another over a cup of tea or coffee. No previous experience is needed, everybody is welcome.”

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So far classes are held in Pontardawe, Morriston, Seven Sisters, Cwmavon and Briton Ferry, Upper Killay, Reynoldston, Mumbles and the Waterfront Museum.

Alyson said: “The health board asked for 12 classes across Swansea Bay and funded the management side while the GP clusters are funding the delivery of the classes. They wanted it to be grass roots up.

“Anyone can walk in but they wanted the main referrals to come from the virtual wards and local area coordinators and social prescribers, a whole community approach.”

Lizzie MacMillan (Image: Swansea Bay HNS)

Dance artist Lizzie MacMillan (left), a development officer for Dance for Health, said: “It’s for older people and people who are struggling a little bit with perhaps balance issues, mobility issues as well, so we are not expecting them to foxtrot along the floor on the first class or anything like that. It builds up over the weeks.

“We start off quite gently, just seeing where everyone is in the class – I like to gauge the class first of all to see if people are having problems with balance or perhaps giddiness or joint problems. I like to get to know each person in the class so that I can look after them and know their capacity for movement.

“We use the chairs quite a lot if someone is unsteady on their feet. They can still do a variation using the chair for support. We also do a standing variation if people are a little fitter or a little bit more able to push themselves further in the class.”

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Over 65s in Swansea Bay are being encouraged to attend dance classes in a bid to keep them on their feet. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Mike Garner, Cwmtawe Cluster lead, said: “We are delighted to be participating in this programme as it fits in perfectly with our goal of improving well-being and helping people remain fit and healthy.”

One participant, Pauline Anderson, said: “I’ve been to four or five classes. I thought I would try it to see what it’s like and it’s been very good.

“As you get older you become more immobile. I’ve been struggling with my knees and joints, so I have found it helpful.

“I would advise anyone thinking about it to just come along.”

Another participant, Betty Didcock, said: “I try to keep active as much as I can. I used to enjoy dancing when I was younger. I’ve made friends here. If you’re a bit shy, it’s a wonderful place to come to get used to talking to people. I’m a quiet one. I don’t always do it right but I have a go.”

While Amber Davies said: “I thought I’d come along to see what it was like. It’s important to keep busy and remain active. It’s also a good way of meeting new people.”

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(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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One-in-a-million nurse bids farewell to NHS after epic 46 year career

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A “one in a million” nurse is saying his final goodbye to the NHS after 46 years.

When Martin Green hangs up his scrubs for the final time on Sunday (May 15th) it will signal the end of an epic career which has spanned several hospitals and services dealing with everything from birth to death.

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“I have done my fair share,” said the Morriston Hospital bed site manager, who turns 66 next week.

“I left school at 15 without any qualifications and had to work my way up the hard way. I often sit there and reminisce.

“One of the things I will miss is the team I am with at the moment. We have been together a while and have been through quite a bit.”

Martin is a valued member of a team right at the heart of the incredibly busy Swansea hospital, monitoring patient movements and bed capacity across the site.

It is the type of role which did not exist when Martin joined a very different NHS in May 1976.

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Having left his native Ebbw Vale, where he had volunteered at the local hospital, he joined a nurse training programme at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol when he was just 18.

As a pupil nurse working towards qualification as an enrolled nurse, Martin had to live in the hospital accommodation and obey strict rules.

“I must admit it was a strict but wonderful training school at Frenchay,” said Martin, who lives in Port Eynon, Gower, with long-term partner Wayne.

“If you came onto the ward and your uniform wasn’t up to scratch you were sent back to your room.

“We didn’t wash our uniforms ourselves. They went to the hospital laundry and came back starched stiff as a board. You could stand them up on your own.

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“If you couldn’t wear a starched uniform you had to get a special note from the doctor.”
Martin added: “The uniforms have changed a bit since then. I think the scrubs we have now are the most comfortable.”

Once qualified, Martin worked in the intensive care unit in Frenchay for a short period, then Singleton Hospital in Swansea before moving to mental health at Pen-y-Fal Hospital in Abergavenny.

After that he took an interest in urgent care and worked first in the accident and emergency department at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport before joining A&E at Morriston for its opening in late 1985.

While there he went back to being a full-time student for a year on a course that enabled him to progress from enrolled to registered nurse.

“The course was birth to death,” he said.

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“You started in maternity because you had to see so many deliveries and worked up from there.

“A few years later, when I was back in A&E at Morriston, a mother came in with a boy of about five or six years and asked if I remembered him.

“Turned out I had witnessed his birth while on my course.”

There can be few nurses who have worked across such a wide range of services as Martin.

But whatever he has done, he has done so with compassion and it is for that his colleagues will remember him most.

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Colleagues gathered outside the main entrance of Morriston Hospital to bid farewell to nurse Martin Green, centre, and presented him with gifts including John Lewis vouchers. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Carol Doggett, Interim Director of Nursing at Morriston Hospital, said Martin’s colleagues have dubbed him “one in a million”.

Summarising some of the many compliments that have been paid to Martin, she said: “Being a nurse is much more than wearing a uniform. It is being kind, compassionate, professional and recognising it’s a privilege to work with people from all walks of life and provide them with care.

“I’ve been told that Martin is unique – one of a kind. He is there for everyone as a friend and a nurse who will always go the extra mile.

“His closest colleagues have called him in Welsh, halen y ddaer, which means salt of the earth. He really is one in a million.”

Lead image: Left, Martin Green as a pupil nurse during his first month of training at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol in 1976, and right, working his last few days before retirement from his role as bed site manager at Morriston Hospital in Swansea. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Overseas nurses made huge personal sacrifices to strengthen workforce

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International nurses spent up to two years away from their own families after relocating to Swansea Bay during the Covid pandemic.

These are among the huge sacrifices made by more than 130 nurses who were recruited from around the world in the past two years to boost the workforce and improve the level of care during a hugely challenging period Swansea Bay University Health Board have said.

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Many came from India, Philippines, the Caribbean and Africa, spending months – years in some cases – without seeing their families in order to continue their development in nursing in Swansea Bay.

The level of sacrifice has been more than first anticipated for some of the nurses recruited from overseas.

For Susan Mhlahleli, the start of the Covid pandemic coinciding with her arrival from Zimbabwe meant she spent two years away from her husband and two children – one of whom has cerebral palsy – before they finally reunited in March this year.

Susan, who is a staff nurse on Morriston Hospital’s Pembroke Ward, said: “I came in March 2020 right at the start of Covid.

“The plan was for my family to come here two or three months after I arrived, but Covid hit and it wasn’t possible.

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“There was a chance for them to come here, but I didn’t want them to spend 11 hours on a plane in a confined space in the heat of Covid.

“I wanted to progress my career and coming here gave me the experience to work with equipment I had only heard and read about.

“I originally came here wanting to be a perfusionist, but there are so many other opportunities I can now pursue.”

Susan was among the 130 overseas nurses who were invited to an event at the Swansea.com Stadium to show appreciation for their efforts and sacrifice.

An event was held to mark International Nurses Day (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

The event was held to mark International Nurses Day, which coincides with the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

Swansea Bay’s international nurses have predominantly gone into acute care settings in Singleton, Morriston and Neath Port Talbot hospitals.

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At the celebratory event, nurses were treated to an afternoon tea, with a number of senior health board officials in attendance.

Mark Hackett, Swansea Bay UHB Chief Executive, said: “It was a fantastic event. These people have come from the other side of the world to work for Swansea Bay.

“It’s really heart-warming to see people and talk to them about why they wanted to come to Swansea Bay, and what they can contribute.

“We want to see a far more diverse work force where everybody gets an opportunity to advance and succeed in their careers.

“We have a thriving health system and there are huge opportunities for everybody, particularly these nurses who are giving an enormous boost to our workforce.

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“We want to encourage more and more nurses to come here. By giving these international nurses a fantastic experience, what that will do is encourage their friends and colleagues to come to Swansea Bay.

“From our perspective, that will help us in delivering high-quality excellent patient care.”

Nurses came to Swansea from places such as India, Philippines, the Caribbean and Africa (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Gareth Howells, executive director of nursing and patient experience, said: “These nurses have travelled from all parts of the world to come to our health board to help our communities and help us care for people who need it.

“It’s exceptionally brave and we owe them support and respect.

“These nurses complement the quality nurses we already had in the health board.

“They have a high level of experience – they are exceptionally skilled nurses.

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“Whichever country these nurses have come from, they care and want to make a difference here.”

The influx of international nurses has helped fill a big void within the health board’s workforce.

Lynne Jones, heard of nursing education, has played a key role in the recruitment drive of international nurses.

“In what has been a very challenging time for the entire world over the past two years, these nurses have opted to continue their careers in Wales and our health board,” she said.

“They have made a huge contribution to filling vacancies and providing the level of care our patients require.

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“As a health board, we are well aware of the sacrifices they have made to come here. They’ve left their homes, they families and job, which isn’t an easy decision to make.

“We are really pleased with our recruitment of overseas nurses over the past two years, and this event has shown them our appreciation of what they’ve brought to our health board.”

Some nurses have spent months – years in some cases – without seeing their families in order to continue their development in nursing in Swansea Bay. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Other overseas nurses who attended the celebration included Beulah Shenje, who arrived from Zimbabwe in January 2020 and works in cardiology in Singleton Hospital.

She said: “This event made me feel special and appreciated.

“I was honoured the health board took the time to hold this event for us, and for senior figures to be in attendance.

“It means a lot to me and shows they appreciate us.

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“This will certainly encourage more nurses from Africa to come to Swansea and help the health board even more.

“My friends in Zimbabwe have asked about coming here to work because they’ve heard so many good things.

“The exposure to more advanced technology here is a big thing because it helps you develop so you can help more people.

“Everyone shares the same goal here – helping people.”

International nurses spent up to two years away from their own families after relocating to Swansea Bay during the Covid pandemic. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Dolapo Akinnayajo works in Morriston Hospital’s Intensive Therapy Unit following her arrival from Nigeria in September 2020.

She spoke about the sense of pride felt in working for the health board, and believes her experience will encourage more nurses to pursue a nursing career in Swansea Bay.

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She said: “I feel very proud to work for our health board. I believe we are all making a difference to the community.

“The reception we’ve received as nurses has been amazing. From the first impression onwards, what we’ve received is love and warmth. It has surpassed expectations.

“And now, to have an event like this put on for us international nurses really shows how much we are appreciated.

“I’ve been telling all my friends, family and former colleagues in Nigeria just how lovely Swansea and Wales is.

“It was a massive relocation but it was a huge opportunity.

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“I am from a developing country, but this is a developed country and the bar is set high. There is access to world-class equipment to help people, and it helps develop you in your role too.”

(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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