As part of Neurocare November, we want to highlight just some of the incredible NHS staff who care for patients with a range of neurological conditions in Sheffield Teaching Hospitals’ neuroscience departments.
First up is Emma Foster, a Senior Clinical Nurse Specialist in Progressive Ataxias at the Sheffield Ataxia Centre, who has worked in her role caring for patients with rare neurological conditions for three and a half years. The Centre is one of only two in the U.K and sees patients from across the country with different causes of cerebellar ataxia, a condition which causes difficulties with balance and coordination.
How does the Centre support patients with Ataxia?
“I work within a team of two neurologists and two specialist nurses, seeing patients in clinics and speaking to them over the phone. I support them with the process of finding a diagnosis and cause for their neurological symptoms.
“The rare neurological conditions which we see in our clinic are fascinating and widely unknown within medicine. Having this service here in Sheffield with the vast knowledge and experience of our consultants is a privilege to be part of.
“I help with their symptoms, treating and easing these, referring to local therapy teams and ensuring they have appropriate adaptations, equipment and care to be able to live as independently as possible. I provide a lot of emotional support, guiding people to live well with their conditions.
Ataxia is a term for a group of disorders that affect coordination, balance and speech. There are many different types of ataxia, usually resulting from damage to the cerebellum, but it can also be caused by damage to other parts of the nervous system.
How well known is Ataxia?
“Ataxia is rare and poorly understood in society. People are often presumed to be drunk as the effects of ethanol of the cerebellum can present similarly to the neurological conditions we see. Having our team that diagnose, treat and support these patients is vital to their health and wellbeing and their ability to live well in society.”
What do you enjoy most about your job?
“I love my team; we are very close and supportive. Our focus is always on supporting our patients and getting the best for them. There is a real sense of the team approach in what we do and we all really value each other’s roles.
“Caring for the patients I see is very rewarding. We get to know our patients and their families very well and being there to help them is a privilege.
“From the age of 3, I always knew I wanted to be a nurse. I have never regretted my career choice and the variability of my role keeps me motivated and gives me great job satisfaction.”
What are the challenges of your job?
“The service is incredibly busy – we have a caseload of over 1600 patients and there is huge demand on our time. However, it makes our days pass quickly and keeps us on our toes. We do have a number of patients who have progressive neurodegenerative conditions and seeing them deteriorate is hard. Supporting them and their families gives me the job satisfaction that I came into nursing for.”
How have Neurocare supporters helped patients with Ataxia?
“The charity has always been really supportive in providing funding to carry out research projects to help our patients.
“The research projects funded by Neurocare in recent years have pioneered in novel investigations that allow us to diagnose immune ataxias earlier, leading to timely and effective treatments that reduce patients’ symptoms and stop the progression of the disease.”