Breathing space

RCN in Wales Nurse of the Year Louise Walby has been improving care for patients with chronic lung disease

For Louise Walby, a respiratory nurse facilitator at Cwm Taf University Health Board in south Wales, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, does not receive the attention it deserves.

COPD is an umbrella term for common conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. According to the British Lung Foundation, an estimated 1.2 million people in the UK are living with diagnosed COPD, making it the second most common lung disease after asthma. It’s also been estimated that up to two-thirds of sufferers remain undiagnosed.

RCN member Louise, who was recently named Nurse of the Year at the annual RCN in Wales Nurse of the Year Awards, has been focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of patients with COPD in the Rhonnda Cynon Taf and Merthyr valleys. With this area experiencing the fourth highest chronic lung disease mortality rate in Britain, she’s determined to combat it.

Louise with two of her colleagues

Louise with her colleagues

“I’ve always had a passion for respiratory nursing, and COPD in particular,” says Louise. “I wanted to improve the patient experience, which means better and earlier diagnosis, better education and ensuring everyone gets the same standard of treatment.”

So Louise set about tackling these issues. She visited 46 GP surgeries in her region, interviewing the nurses and doctors to find out how they managed spirometry, a simple test used to help diagnose and monitor certain lung conditions by measuring how much air a patient can breathe out.

“It was a really positive audit,” she says. “But there were a few common themes which emerged, mainly around patient education, so I put forward a number of recommendations.”

Developing training

She also reworked and facilitated the accredited training for nurses carrying out spirometry.

“The original training, although very comprehensive, did not meet the needs of our nurses,” Louise explains. “It meant two days out of practice, so I condensed it into one with the rest done as e-learning. It makes it easier for nurses to have the time to do it and focuses on the real essentials of what they need to know for the role.” 

The training has been hugely successful; more than 100 nurses have signed up and more than 30 are now fully accredited. As a result, patients across the region are being diagnosed earlier and receiving better treatment. Louise’s work has also been recognised at a national level and is being used as an example of best practice across Wales.

I hope this award gives me a voice to further improve services for patients

All this was enough to convince her manager to nominate Louise for the Nurse of the Year Awards.

“When she said she was going to put me forward I was delighted,” says Louise. “But I never expected to win. I know this is the ultimate acknowledgement and I’m overwhelmed, humbled and excited about the future.

“I hope this award gives me a platform and a voice to further improve services for patients with COPD,” she adds.

Louise with her RCN Wales Nurse of the Year award

Louise with her RCN in Wales Nurse of the Year award

Find out more

See the full list of winners and runners-up at this year's RCN in Wales Nurse of the Year Awards.

Words by Tom Metcalf / Pictures by Stuart Fisher

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