Prioritising dignity

Health care support worker Alex Worgan puts patients top of the agenda in her role as chair of the patient and carer dignity group at Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff

When Alex became chair of her Velindre Cancer Centre’s patient and carer dignity group in 2019, she was determined to reinvigorate it.

She’d joined the multi-disciplinary group of 22 staff, carer representatives and patients in 2017, seeing an opportunity to raise dignity issues and share good practice. Her own experience helped her identify changes that would make the ward she worked on run more effectively for patients.

Alex Worgan

Alex Worgan

Meeting three times a year, the award-winning group discusses and takes action on patient and family dignity issues. It’s externally audited and members of the group provide dignity training and produce newsletters, to ensure patient dignity is high on every member of staff's agenda. 

But, for Alex, who’s worked at Velindre for nearly eight years, becoming chair wasn’t all plain sailing. 

“Initially, I felt concerned about how I would be perceived by others. This was really stepping outside my comfort zone,” she says.

“A lot of senior staff sit on the group and I was in awe of how amazing and caring the group is. These people think of things that may never cross your mind.

“I had to learn new skills - writing agendas, booking meetings, delegating roles, accessing Welsh translation services, controlling group conversations and time management.”

To get the support she needed, Alex approached the original dignity group founder and chairperson to be her mentor. 

“I now stop and look at the little things. Sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference,” she says.

Advocating for patients: ringing the bell

A new "end of treatment bell", where patients ring a bell with family and friends to symbolise the end of cancer treatment, has recently been introduced.

Some staff were concerned about how patients and families facing end-of-life care and bereavement would feel about this. Would seeing the bell rung by others may be perceived as insensitive and cause distress?

Alex was able to bring a different perspective. She explains: “I was diagnosed with cancer nearly five years ago. I couldn't be treated in the UK, so had to go to Jacksonville USA. 

“While there I noticed that in the middle of the waiting room and in the main entrance there was a huge bell, like a wind chime, which was designed for patients to ring at the end of their treatment.

Bell at Velindre cancer centre“When I first had the idea explained to me, I didn't want to ring it. To be honest I thought it was a little daft. But over time I joined in other peoples’ end of treatment celebrations and I realised how important it was and how proud I should be to get to ring it. Whether or not the treatment works, it’s still a huge achievement to finally finish your treatment. 

“When I was explaining the importance of the bell, I needed to bring that feeling of pure pride. When you go through something so tough, finishing that is something that should be celebrated. 

“When things are hard and you’re feeling like you can't go on, you have the goal of ringing the bell in your mind. This helps so many people to push through. The response has been amazing.” 

Ensuring longevity

With her confidence building, Alex is now determined that the dignity group fulfils its original purpose - championing patient dignity.

Meetings are now once again booked months in advance to ensure that people can arrange time to attend, newsletters (translated into Welsh) have been electronically circulated to every member of staff. 

By stepping out of her comfort zone, Alex has not only secured the longevity of the group, but has also ensured that dignified care remains high on the agenda of all staff. 

Recognising determination

Alex has achieved all this alongside her demanding role on a busy acute oncology ward, caring for patients receiving chemotherapy, immunotherapy and palliative care.  

Her determination to overcome her uncertainty for the benefit of patients saw her shortlisted in the nursing support worker category at the RCNi Nurse Awards 2020. 

“Being shortlisted for the award was such a great honour and a fantastic way to get the work the dignity group stands for out there,” she says.  

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