Nurse inspired by her son leads team to award win

When nurse Carol Edwards realised her autistic son had missed a hospital appointment because he could not read the letter he was sent, she knew that something had to change.

As the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital's deputy director of nursing, she was in a position to improve the way the hospital cares for people with learning difficulties and embarked upon a six-year project which has just seen its team awarded one of the top nursing awards in the country.

Mrs Edwards and her husband adopted three children in 1993, including Tony, who is now 26 and who has autism and a low IQ.

She said: 'The sister in ENT (ear, nose and throat) called me and said that Tony hadn't arrived for his appointment. I said that he didn't have an appointment, and she showed me a copy of the letter which had gone out.

'Tony can't read, but he had recognised his name, and taken the letter up to his room.

'I thought, 'this is crazy, we are sending letters out to people who can't read and we're sending information to people that's inappropriate'.

'I walked round the hospital and looked at the signs as though I was looking through Tony's eyes and realised that something needed to be done.'

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Mrs Edwards, 67, who lives in Little London, Corpusty, joined forces with About With Friends, a charity based in north Norfolk that gives support to people with learning difficulties, to help in forming an action plan alongside colleagues, including Stevie Read, a nurse qualified in working with people with learning difficulties.

About With Friends' members got involved in working groups and also made a video for people with learning difficulties, which is on the hospital's website, explaining what will happen on a hospital visit or stay.

Other improvements include introducing personal health information books, champions for each ward or department, resource packs, a training scheme, an employment scheme and a dedicated liaison nurse to support patients with learning disabilities.

This all leads to shorter stays in hospital, fewer complaints and better health outcomes.

This week, the N&N team won the Nursing Times Patient Pathway Award for the work done to improve acute hospital services for people with learning difficulties.

The team was then chosen by NHS Chief Nursing Officer Dame Christine Beasley among the winners of the 14 other award categories for the prestigious Chief Nursing Officer's award as overall winner.

Mrs Edwards, who retired in September after 40 years in nursing and who is a governor of the Victory Academy in Costessey, said: 'We are delighted to have won these awards. A huge amount of work has gone on across our hospitals and has brought real benefits to patients with learning difficulties.

'We're very proud to have these achievements recognised in this way.'

Do you have a health story for the Evening News? Contact reporter Kim Briscoe on 01603 772419 or email