Labour Party Conference: Health Service - Nurse in wheelchair finds new NHS role on the end of a phone

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The Independent Online
A NURSE injured in a ballooning accident will tell the Labour Conference in Bournemouth today how the NHS telephone helpline changed her life.

Lesley Parker, 32, thought she would never work again as a nurse after the accident, which left her wheelchair-bound. As a paraplegic she could no longer work on wards and had no hope of returning to an NHS role. However, the health helpline - NHS Direct - gave her the chance to act as a nurse over the telephone for thousands of callers she will never meet.

She will tell the conferencehow she is helping to change the lives of others. "For myself, one of the greatest rewards is the ability to remain in nursing and continue caring for patients," she will say.

Ms Parker, a Wakefield nurse, says the NHS Direct centre she works in allows her to work independently, one to one with callers.

In spite of her injuries she is helping patients, sometimes in great stress, to cope with crises in their own lives. One call involved an anxious mother whose eight-year-old son had hit his head at school, and had become sleepy and was "not his normal self".

Before rushing to the nearest accident and emergency unit she called Ms Parker. After carrying out a detailed assessment over the phone and making sure the boy had no serious symptoms, Ms Parker advised that it was safe for the mother to look after him at home.

"I explained what to do and the symptoms to look out for, encouraging her to call back if she was at all concerned. Because she was so worried, I arranged to call her back after a couple of hours. When I did I was greeted by a very grateful mother, whose son was sitting up eating his tea."

NHS Direct has been welcomed by patients but some GPs have been concerned about the nurses acting as "gatekeepers" for primary health care. The arrival of the two nurses at the conference is intended to reassure delegates that the service is succeeding in speeding the delivery of healthcare on the NHS by capitalising on nursing skills - especially from a wheelchair.