Home Top Global NewsHealthcare ‘It makes them feel better’: skin and haircare regime a hit for ICU patients | NHS

‘It makes them feel better’: skin and haircare regime a hit for ICU patients | NHS

by Ozva Admin

D.Despite having worked as a nurse at St Thomas’s hospital in south London for over 20 years, it took Ginny Wanjiro until the start of the coronavirus pandemic to realize what was missing in caring for her sickest patients and vulnerable.

“Coronavirus really opened my eyes. We had so many patients coming into intensive care units who were very sick,” says Wanjiro. “Their hair was terrible, their skin was scaly and they were in very bad shape. I was thinking, what are we missing here? What do we need to improve the UCI?”

Wanjiro had always tried to pay attention not only to the internal health of his patients, but also to their hair and skin. However, with a limited team, it was difficult to provide this care to all patients, especially those of diverse backgrounds with curly, coiled, or Afro hair. Treating patients from all over the world, the hospital primarily serves residents of Lambeth, a diverse borough where one in four people is black.

Wanting to do more, Wanjiro reached out to Guy’s and St Thomas’ National Health Service trust administration to solicit funds to provide detangling combs, brushes, creams and other specialized hair products that could be used on all hair types and textures, reflecting the diversity of the hospital’s patients.

“I told them that our patients’ hair was getting tangled, that we couldn’t comb it well, and they asked me what I wanted. I said that I wanted to have each comb represent the hair of the patients coming in,” says Wanjiro.

“We knew we needed more [equipment] when a black girl came in, or a black patient with an afro or with a wig, and I was like, we don’t have the right equipment to do this.”

Sister Ginny Wanjiro
Sister Ginny Wanjiro. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Six months after Wanjiro’s initial meeting with management, the funding was awarded and his hair care initiative launched in September as a pilot at four St Thomas ICUs. So far, Wanjiro has trained more than 20 nursing staff to provide hair care services to its patients, and more than 250 have received this service. Hair care services cover more than just the basics: patients often have their hair washed, cut, blow-dried, and even braided if desired.

The positive impact the pilot has had on the mental well-being and confidence of some of the most vulnerable patients at St Thomas has been immeasurable, with many of the patients’ families writing to Wanjiro to express their gratitude for the new service.

“No one wants to have matted hair or dry, flaky skin,” says Trish McCready, a sister at UCI St Thomas’ who is part of the hair care initiative. “So it’s nice to be able to take care of patients properly because they really appreciate it and their family members really appreciate it.”

For McCready, providing hair care services to patients is not just a superficial exercise, but crucial to their recovery.

“They don’t want to leave the hospital when they get better with tangled, knotty hair and terribly dry skin. They want to leave in a reasonably healthy condition, if not a little better than when they arrived,” says McCready.

“It also makes them feel better psychologically – they’re all part of the patient’s family and we all want them to get better and have the best experience possible, because what probably won’t be the best journey through intensive care.”

UCI sister Trish McCready
UCI’s sister Trish McCready. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

This opinion is shared by Kemi Okelana, an intensive care nurse who is also part of the Wanjiro pilot program. “We spend a lot of time taking care of the internal organs, so it has to be holistic and balanced. Because if you feel good on the outside, it will help you feel better as your disease progresses,” says Okelana.

Intensive Care Nurse Kemi Okelana
Intensive care nurse Kemi Okelana. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

The pilot, which is expected to conclude in December, will be reviewed by the trust’s management. There is a good chance that, due to its popularity with patients and their families, it could find its way onto more wards at St Thomas and become a permanent fixture in NHS hospitals across the country.

“Hopefully it’s going to be a massive change [throughout] the entire NHS and we are going to make that happen,” says Wanjiro. “Our goal is to make sure that every time our patients come into the hospital, they have the best experience and even look much better than when they came in.”

But ultimately, Wanjiro’s passion and belief in the efficacy of his hair care initiative stem from his strong desire to help people.

“I always had this feeling that I want to do more and that I want to care. I want to take care of sick patients and be their advocate,” says Wanjiro. “That makes me feel better. It’s not a banker’s job or anything like that, but that’s who I am and I love it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

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