Patients who need surgical care are supported by many NHS people in operating theatres, but what do you know about surgical care practitioners?
This International Women’s Day we’re shining a light on four women who are surgical care practitioners (SCPs) at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT).
SCPs provide “highly skilled” care in operating theatres at hospitals run by the Trust, as well as in wards and outpatient clinics.
They are trained to assist with open and laparoscopic (keyhole) operations and can carry out some procedures themselves too – including wound closure and minor surgery – under the direct supervision of a consultant surgeon.
With backgrounds in nursing their responsibilities include preparing patients for surgery and planning their post-operative care, including wound assessment, treatment and identification of surgical problems and complications.
SCPs can also help to train trainee surgeons and prescribe medication.
Miss Sharmila Gupta is the Trust’s clinical director for surgery and gastroenterology.
She said: “Our surgical care practitioners are an integral part of the surgical team and deliver highly skilled care to our patients.
“They have wide ranging roles providing expertise on the wards, in clinics and in theatres.
“They are invaluable for both patients and staff, and contribute to the excellent outcomes and patient experience that we achieve at ESNEFT.”
SCPs and other advanced nurses and allied health professionals are making a huge difference across the Trust and we’ve been speaking with four in general surgery to find out more about the work they do and why they love it.
This medical division has three SCPs based at Colchester Hospital and one at Ipswich Hospital, with more development of the role planned in future.
Meet some of our SCPs
Jane qualified as a nurse in Dublin in 1984 before leaving Ireland to work in a busy private hospital in Miami.
While in Florida Jane was introduced to the surgical assistant (now SCP) role and decided it was what she wanted to do.
After meeting her husband the couple moved to the UK in 1989 and Jane secured a job as a staff nurse in theatres at Colchester Hospital.
SCPs did not exist then, but now there is a defined route into the job with education and training.
At the beginning of her career Jane was heavily involved with setting up a training programme for future SCPs.
She and other colleagues from around the country launched The National Association of Assistants in Surgical Practice. The group worked with the Department of Health and the Royal College of Surgeons to establish the role and formal training programme, which now forms the basis of SCP training today.
Jane said: “I started work as a surgical assistant in general surgery in 2001. This was a brand new role then and I am glad to say it’s grown significantly and has been rolled out through all the specialties at the Trust.
“The best part of my job is the patient contact and supporting them through their journey while working with every member of the team to improve patient care and experience.
“All through my career I have been involved in training all grades of the surgical team and this is something I really enjoy. It is an absolute privilege to be able to pass on the knowledge that I have learned over the years.
“The role is extremely varied and no two days are ever the same. It really is the best job.”
Debbie trained at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, qualifying as a nurse in 1985. She is based at Colchester Hospital, but also worked in theatres at the former Essex County Hospital and Severalls Hospital too.
After 10 years she decided to undergo more training and completed a master’s degree in advanced clinical practice. She then secured a job as a laparoscopic nurse practitioner.
She said: “I wondered what on earth I had done. For ten years I had been looking after fit, well day cases and these patients all seemed very ill.
“I was very confident in theatres and took to assisting and camera holding really easily, but I had to learn about ward work again and also more about the conditions we treat patients for.
“You don’t have to be a theatre nurse, but it is good to have a little understanding of what you may need to do.
“The role of advanced nurse practitioner is varied and interesting, we act as the glue but also as a support to the nursing and medical staff.
“We get to know patients who return over the years and also form close relationships with patients who have undergone complex surgery, or who need long term wound care and follow up treatment. It is extremely rewarding and you really feel you can make a difference.”
Estelle qualified in 2006 with a degree in adult nursing and initially worked as a staff nurse on a urology ward at Colchester Hospital.
Not long after qualifying, she looked after a patient who had a complex wound who was seen by a SCP – it was Jane Hendricks.
Estelle said: “She swept into the room, assessed the patient and developed a care plan all while informing and involving the patient and teaching the poor newly qualified staff nurse in the corner.
“I vividly remember at the time thinking if I could be half the nurse that she was I was doing a good job.”
Estelle became an advanced nurse practitioner in 2015 and SCP in 2018. Jane, who had so inspired her when she first qualified, was retiring with an intention to return part time and Estelle was her replacement.
Estelle said: “This was a big leap for me, not because it was general surgery, but more because a large majority of this role is spent in theatres and I had no theatre experience.
“So, having thought that I was finished with education for a little while and having only finished my master’s degree four months earlier I started studying again to supplement the elements I was missing.”
Estelle’s not looked back since then and something she has been involved with more recently is the development and roll out of ESNEFT’s robotic surgery programme.
She said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed this process, the development of a new service for patients and a new service at the trust.
“I can hand on heart say I have the best job.”
Supporting the Coronavirus (COVID-19) response
During the first wave of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Debbie and Estelle stayed on the general surgery teams at Colchester Hospital while Jane was redeployed to the Oaks Hospital to support the continuation of ESNEFT’s elective surgery.
They worked with the surgical teams, supporting registrars and consultants working on the wards while junior doctors were caring for Coronavirus (COVID-19) patients.
In the second wave Debbie and Jane were redeployed to the surgical assessment unit and Estelle stayed in her general surgery role to support the robotic surgery programme, which continued to treat patients at Colchester Hospital.
Ali trained at Ipswich Hospital between 2003 and 2006. Since qualifying she’s worked in various specialities, including gynaecology, orthopaedics, day surgery, plastics and dermatology.
As her role is new to emergency general surgery Ali has been able to make it her own, while meeting the needs of the surgical department.
2020 was a big year for Ali. Not only did she complete her master’s degree in surgical care practice, she also spent time on Critical Care as part of the Trust’s response to the (Coronavirus) COVID-19 pandemic.
She said: “During the first wave I stayed in my role as emergency services did not stop, although at that time my role was very similar to that of a junior doctor.
“However, during the second wave I was redeployed to the Critical Care Unit where I cared for a very different group of patients. It was a scary time and very different to my SCP role, but it gave me the opportunity to work with a fantastic team, learn lots of new skills and really make a difference to someone’s life.
“Hopefully as we get back into more ‘normal’ times I can use these new skills to continue to develop my SCP role within the Trust.
“Taking on these advanced roles not only compliments the surgical team, but allows them to prioritise sicker patients.”
Supporting patients and improving care
Emma Sweeney is associate director of nursing for surgery, gastroenterology and anaesthetics at ESNEFT.
She said: “We’re very proud to have our team of SCPs in the division. They are highly skilled practitioners who work across professional boundaries to support our surgical patients.
“SCPs also demonstrate an advanced nursing role and they undoubtedly have had a positive impact on patient care and experience across the Trust.”Back to top