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Campaigner returns to unveil “Dementia Care Pledge Tree”

Tommy Whitelaw

Caption:Tommy Whitelaw with his mother, Joan

3 July 2017

A leading dementia care campaigner returns to Colchester on Thursday (6 July) to unveil a piece of artwork that has been designed to raise awareness of the condition.

Award-winning Tommy Whitelaw will cut a ceremonial ribbon to formally launch the “Dementia Care Pledge Tree” at Colchester General Hospital.

Staff, patients and visitors will be invited to add paper leaves on which they will write a pledge about what they will do to make a difference to the lives of people with dementia and their carers.

Tommy’s own pledge will become the first leaf which will be joined by some of the pledges made by about 40 staff from Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust when he gave a series of talks at the hospital in February, but there will be room for many more.

Vanessa Mclean, dementia care nurse specialist, said: “The Pledge Tree gives the hospital an opportunity to raise awareness of dementia and also to demonstrate how committed we are to the care of patients and to the support of carers and relatives.

“In addition, the process of making a pledge is quite a personal thing and makes you think about dementia and the impact a stay in hospital can have. This will help us to improve the service we provide for patients with dementia and their carers.

“Once the Pledge Tree has been filled up with pledges, we will cover and secure it. It will then become a permanent artwork and a sign of our commitment to supporting people affected by dementia.

“It’s in a very busy corridor so will be seen daily by hundreds of people, including patients, visitors and staff. We have identified an area for a second Pledge Tree elsewhere in the hospital.”

Maisey Dear, another dementia care nurse specialist, said: “Tommy’s last talk inspired so many staff to see that they can make a huge difference to the care people with dementia receive. By inviting Tommy back, we are putting the care back into dementia care.”

The tree, which is approximately 8ft tall, has been painted by Lara Wallington, aged 16, of Highwoods, an A-level student at Colchester Sixth Form College.

She became involved because she is a friend of Rebecca Edwardson, daughter of Helen Chase, the Trust’s Head of Safeguarding, and came into the hospital in her own time after college for two weeks to work on the project.

Tommy, who lives in Glasgow, gave up working with some of the world’s top bands to become a full-time carer for his mother Joan from when she was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2007 until her death in September 2012.

During his second visit to Colchester, Tommy will also give a talk about his experience of caring for his mum to some of the Trust’s 178 dementia champions, as well as staff from all areas and disciplines.

The champions consist of a variety of staff who work in virtually all wards and departments and who have undergone two-day advanced training so that they can give advice and information to colleagues looking after patients with dementia.

Tommy said: "I am so very honoured to be returning to Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust to launch the Dementia Care Pledge Tree.

“The pledges from my last visit tell the story of the passion, dedication and care of the remarkable people who work across the Trust.

“I travelled home last time with a smile on my face and can't wait to help celebrate the amazing people who dedicate their lives to others ".

Professor Jan Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said: “I’m delighted to be working closely with Tommy to support the great work he does with nursing staff from all over the country, inspiring them to create pledges to improve care, as well as raising awareness of how they can lead change and add value.

“This fantastic work recognises the vital skills, care and compassion that staff display when caring for individuals, their families and loved ones.”

Some of the dementia champions will attend Thursday’s unveiling when Tommy will cut a ceremonial ribbon along with senior staff from the Trust, including Catherine Morgan, director of nursing, as well as Lara Wallington.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, one in four adults admitted to an acute hospital has dementia. Miss Mclean believes that the percentage for Colchester General Hospital may be higher, partly because of the high number of very elderly people living in north east Essex.