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Rathlin's nurses win top award for helping to keep islanders healthy

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 23/05/2015

Patricia Laverty and Ann Lywood
Patricia Laverty and Ann Lywood

They are the nurses who keep the residents of Northern Ireland's most remote inhabited island healthy.

Patricia Laverty and Ann Lywood, who work six miles off the north Antrim coast on Rathlin Island, have won a major nursing award.

Despite no GP, health centre, pharmacy or other dedicated base, Ann and Patricia have built close relationships with the community to deliver a district nursing service.

Relying on a Land Rover to make calls, they use the local shop for their surgery and in an medical emergency they can call a helicopter and lifeboat service to take patients to hospital.

Their work, along with dozens of other nurses, was praised during the annual Nurse of the Year awards, organised by the Royal College of Nursing.

The women, who attended the event at the Culloden Hotel in Holywood, Co Down, won the Public Health Award for their work to provide a comprehensive nursing service.

Ann, from Ballintoy, and Patricia who moved to the island last year, said they were delighted to have won but said they received great support from the community.

Patricia (47), originally from Ballycastle, said: "It is a challenge and have to use your initiative and think on your feet.

"The community do take you into their hearts and it is a nice community to live in. But because it is an island they have to be self-sufficient and there is a lot of teamwork."

The district nurses treat around 120 residents - but it becomes busier during summer months when around 40,000 people can visit the island. Ann and Patricia each work for one week then swap.

"We would work between 9am and 5pm every day. We do house calls, and two surgeries every day where people would call in. After 5pm we are on call for any emergencies to 9am," Patricia, who swapped life as a secretary to retrain as a nurse when she was 34, explained.

"There are about 120 people now on the island. Five babies were born last year - they had a bit of a baby boom!"

The two nurses have not had to deal with any deliveries personally but have had to deal with other medical emergencies.

"You go through phases where nothing happens then there are falls, sometimes with holidaymakers. Or you might be dealing with a broken bone or a heart attack."

Their nomination said: "Nursing on Rathlin Island is unpredictable but rewarding, the nurses have to be able to deal with any eventuality."

Patricia said: "We couldn't do the job without the locals and those that work in the coastguard, the fire service - they are a great team. It is very much teamwork.

"To get the award was just wonderful, and to see so many other nurses who do great work get acknowledged makes you feel nurses are valued."

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