A RETIRING Macmillan nurse whose career spans 43 years has left a lasting legacy of improvement for end of life care.

Theresa Richards started her nursing career in 1978 as a cadet nurse in Wrexham and has spent her entire nursing career working with patients across north Wales.

Theresa has been a sister on a stroke rehabilitation ward, a district nurse and, for the past 20 years, has been part of Wrexham’s Specialist Palliative Care Department, becoming a Macmillan Palliative Care Nurse Specialist in the process.

Theresa Richards started her nursing career in Wrexham in 1978.

Theresa Richards started her nursing career in Wrexham in 1978.

In 2008, Theresa also took up a first-of-its-kind role and became the first Macmillan end of life care plan facilitator in Wales, a role through which she has helped to reshape how patients who are nearing the end of life are cared for.

Leading an innovative ‘six-steps to success’ palliative and end of life care training programme, Theresa and her team have helped to offer patients a much greater sense of control, and choice, as they near their final days.

The ‘six-steps’ programme is all about training health and social care professionals to improve the quality of care, and the outcomes being achieved for patients and their families. The programme covers end of life discussions, assessment, care planning and review, and coordination of care in the last days of life.

The Macmillan End of Life Care Nurse Facilitation Team launched the ‘six-steps’ training programme in 2013, and from the very earliest stages its impact was clear.

Within six months of training its first cohort of care homes, far more people were getting to spend their final days comfortably in the place they wished to be, while avoiding unwanted, last-minute admissions to hospital through accident and emergency departments.

The success of the ‘six steps’ also led to Theresa becoming a Bevan Exemplar in 2015, and the programme which began in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is now also due to be adopted across mid and south Wales.

Quite rightly, during a career that has seen her contribute so much to improving services for patients, Theresa has also received a number of honours for her work.

Theresa receiving her Palliative Care Nurse of the Year award in 2015.

Theresa receiving her Palliative Care Nurse of the Year award in 2015.

Looking back on her career, she said: “There have been many proud moments, and I count myself a very lucky person indeed to have found such a fulfilling career.

“I have seen huge changes and health care challenges over the years, and nothing I have done in that time would have been possible without the support and friendship of my nursing colleagues.

“It has been an absolute honour and a privilege to hold the title of Macmillan nurse for the past twenty years and I even got to attend the Prince of Wales 70th Birthday Garden Party in Buckingham Palace on Macmillan’s behalf.

“But in looking back, my proudest moments are where I’ve been able to make a difference and improve people’s care."

Theresa Richards at the steps of the palace.

Theresa Richards at the steps of the palace.

She says her work has been all about offering "choice, dignity and comfort" at the time that people need it the most, by training staff to be able to deliver the highest quality end of life care that is possible.

“People must be offered dignity and peace as they approach the end of their life, and quite often that comes with giving them choice on things like where they want to die and who they would like to be with them," Theresa said.

“Advance care planning helps offer this choice, and so often we have seen people receive a sense of peace and composure as they know they have put things in order for when they approach the end of their days.”

Richard Pugh, head of partnerships for Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales, said: “Theresa really does embody what it means to be a nurse – that drive to offer the best possible care to her patients, while constantly looking to improve how things are done.

“She can look back now on a career that has made a real difference, and all of us at Macmillan are very proud indeed of what she has achieved. We wish her all the very best for her retirement, and for the rest she so thoroughly deserves.”

Alison Foster, Macmillan head of nursing for specialist palliative care at Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board, said: “We are immensely proud of Theresa and the fact that her pioneering work to improve end of life care has been recognised and stands poised to be rolled-out to other Health Board areas in Wales.

"She is, and will continue to be, a shining example of what the best of nursing has to offer.”