A nurse who has dedicated her life to improving care for dying patients has been recognised with a lifetime achievement award.
Claire Henry, of Uppingham, has spent most of her nursing career caring for cancer patients and those needing end-of-life palliative care. Her desire to do more to help patients in the last stages of their life has led to her becoming the national director of the National End of Life Care Programme.
She received the prestigious award at the International Journal of Palliative Nursing Awards, sponsored by Macmillan Cancer Support, on Thursday last week.
Claire, 47, who is based in Leicester, but works all around the country, said she felt honoured and humbled at being nominated for the award.
She said: “I’m really touched that my peers put me forward for this.”
Born in Leicester, Claire moved to Rutland with her family at the age of eight, living in Lyddington and then Ketton, where her parents Vic and Bernice Henry still live. She trained in Lincolnshire and qualified as a registered general nurse in 1987.
Claire said: “I always wanted to be a nurse from when I was a little girl - I never wanted to do anything else.”
As soon as she began nursing she recognised that more could be done for elderly patients dying in hospital.
“They were cared for fantastically well physically but there was no-one to just sit and talk to them.”
Highlights of Claire’s career include helping to start the National Forum for Lung Cancer Nurses and leading programmes to improve cancer services, culminating in her current role which she has held since 2008.
In presenting the award to her, the journal’s consultant editor Robert Becker praised Claire for her “extraordinary commitment and dedication”.
He said her work had led to “substantial and previously unimaginable improvements” for patients and their families both in hospital and in care homes and said that she had been “influential in raising the profile of end-of-life care”.
As her career has advanced, Claire has embraced solving problems and getting involved with the technical side of nursing but says talking to patients has kept her grounded.
She said: “If I encounter problems, I don’t take no for an answer. I’m passionate about what I do and I always know there is a solution.
“We have some fantastic nurses but, in my opinion, training veered a bit too much towards the technical side rather than the caring aspect.
“We lost some of those caring people, the nurses who really did just want to stay by patients’ bedsides and we now need to get the balance right again.”
Claire, who is married to Lionel Cunnington, a semi-retired teacher, said there are “hundreds of success stories out there” but believes more can still be done.
Claire said: “We still haven’t got it all right and when you think of the ageing population and the problem we have with dementia, we have to keep driving improvements.
“People have to be supported in their own homes, especially if they don’t have family around them.
“There’s an awful lot more work still to do.”