Liz Smith, winner of the Social Care Nurse Award in the Great British Care Awards East of England finals, talks about her career and successes, and why she still loves what she does.
Liz Smith is in positive mood. Her win in the regional Great British Care Awards is still fresh in her mind, and she, her team and the people they support are enjoying being able to get out and about again after a long 18 months of lockdowns.
However, it’s fair to say that ‘positive’ describes Liz most days. In fact, when the judges in the East of England finals gave their rationale for her win, they said, “Liz’s enthusiasm and energy for her work hasn’t diminished in all her years of nursing.”
Liz is service manager of the Gables in Ely, Cambridgeshire, a residential service with nursing, run by Consensus. The service supports adults with a range of needs, including complex nursing needs, learning disabilities, autism, and mental health needs.
Having managed the Gables for 12 years and qualified as a nurse in 1975, Liz has always had a vocation for nursing. She started working on a voluntary basis, aged 14, at Leybourne Grange in Kent – a large mental hospital that has long since closed – and began her nursing training at age 18.
“So much has changed in nursing and care in 50 years!” Liz says. “Thankfully, care and support is 100 times better than it was. Now people living with complex needs can enjoy a fantastic quality of life.”
Liz has always put the people she supports first. “It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t always how things were done,” she says. “As a young nurse I would question senior nurses if I felt care decisions weren’t right. It sometimes got me into trouble, but it never put me off!”
Liz’s commitment to the people she supports has led to some incredible outcomes for residents of the Gables. “The people we support are very vulnerable,” she explains. “But we give them the best possible care, enabling them to live a happy and rewarding life. Take Jess [not her real name]. She weighed just 36kg when she moved to the Gables. She had bad pressure sores, her skin was in a terrible state, and she would only grunt. She had scoliosis from being left on one side too long. And she had no interest in anything.
“We immediately implemented a high calorie diet for her, focused on clearing up her pressure sores and initiated various other interventions. Over the course of 12 months she’s transformed. Jess comes into town with me, she’s talking, she does her own care reviews… Prior to the pandemic, I even took her on holiday for a long weekend to a Consensus ‘Party in the Park’ and we were out until 2am! It’s seeing the difference I can make to people like Jess that makes me love what I do.”
Have her early experiences of strict staff nurses made Liz determined to be different with her own team? “I do a lot of shifts with my guys,” she says. “I think all good managers provide hands-on support. How can you be a good manager if you don’t know what’s happening in your service?”
Looking back on her career, Liz says, “I’ve had amazing experiences and have supported and cared for many wonderful people. I’m so grateful to still be doing the job I love. And I’m not stopping yet!”