Meet Stella: Head of Healthcare HMP Liverpool

In 2019, Stella became the Nursing Times’ “Nurse Leader of the Year” in recognition of her work turning around patient safety at HMP Liverpool, vastly reducing rates of self-harm and suicide through effective risk management. Here, Stella shares what she loves about working for Spectrum.

How did you career in nursing begin and why are you so passionate about working with substance abusers?

After qualifying as a nurse at King’s College London I worked in gynae and intensive care in London as a staff nurse.

I then worked in Liverpool in Cardiothoracic ITU for a number of years caring for multiple patients presenting with endocarditis (an infection of the heart) often caused by intravenous drug use.

At the time there wasn’t much knowledge about managing pain amongst this cohort – uncertainty in relation to post-operative pain management and lack of clarity in terms of opiate tolerance/withdrawal etc.

This is largely where my interest in addiction and substance issues services sparked from- I then went on to work in NZ and Australia in drug services for Many years after this.

Tell us about your employment journey at Spectrum?

I first worked with Spectrum nine years ago, when I was employed as Director of Operations for a third sector organisation. We collaborated on a project in relation to the delivery of substance misuse services in Lancashire.

I can remember being blown away by the passion and commitment of Dr Linda Harris. Like me she believes in everyone’s right to recovery. I felt this conversation was key in terms of my decision to want to work for Spectrum at some point in my career.

I started working in a substance misuse role as clinical lead for Spectrum at HMP Styal in 2017 – and shortly after starting this post the opportunity for Head of Healthcare at HMP Styal came up and I was approached to take on this role which I was delighted about.

Two years later the role of Head of Transformation at HMP Liverpool was advertised. The service was under significant pressure – high rates of deaths in custody and numerous safety issues.

Ultimately, I remain a clinician at heart- and what motivates me is delivering the best outcomes for patients, particularly those who are vulnerable with significant health inequalities. Spectrums values echo this sentiment and it’s a real pleasure to work for an organisation that is authentically patient centred.

What myths would you like to dispel about working in prison healthcare?

There’s a misconception that being a nurse in a prison is high risk, but in actual fact, it’s no more dangerous than other settings.

The patients here have often faced multi layered episodes of trauma, and present with massive health inequalities. Sometimes it the patients first contact with healthcare and its often the first-time they have really felt cared for in any kind of meaningful compassionate way.

Working in health in justice also offers an opportunity to challenge the stigma around offending.

We give opportunities to healthcare students so they can experience the rewards of working in prisons- to understand the difference they can make.

We also work with a wide range of partners; for example; offender management, through the gate teams, probation, housing, reducing reoffending teams to help give people the best possible chance of recovery and reintegration into the community. It’s a huge privilege.

What is distinctive about Spectrum as an employer?

Spectrum staff don’t just ‘talk the talk’, every day we are working to improve patient care.  Everyone has a voice and can share ideas for improvement. One of the best things about working for Spectrum is being supported to innovate – even if things don’t always succeed, there’s always valuable learning we can take away and share with others.

Our chief executive, Dr Linda Harris, is also fantastic at engaging staff. She role models the values and transcends them down the whole organisation. She’s got the Elvis Presley factor – she’s singing directly to everyone in the room!

What is your proudest achievements in your career at Spectrum?

It was nice to win the Nurse Leader of the Year in 2019 and get the peer recognition from nurses across the country, but the highlight has been the recognition that we can reduce deaths in custody at the prison. That quality nurse led care can make a huge difference to patient safety, clinical effectiveness and the patient experience.

Before Spectrum’s transformation serious untoward incidents were very high. Spectrum has enabled us to literally save lives by identifying key risks and creating safe transparent governance- to create a zero-suicide culture.

We recognised many deaths were often related to drug overdoses, mental health issues, vulnerable adults, people with unidentified learning difficulties. The transformation plan at Liverpool is a great example of Spectrum’s mission to introduce interventions that respond to patient need. Turning ideas into action, setting best practise up and embedding a culture of safety.

What do you think the future holds for Spectrum?

I’m confident Spectrum has an exciting future ahead and will go from strength to strength. There’s an opportunity to enter into primary care networks and support the new integrated care systems as well as continuing to enrich its offender health, sexual health, substance misuse services.

We’re also really good at providing professional support and consultation to other providers especially around transformation project. Our Learn and Develop services also look very promising and no doubt will evolve and grow alongside the business.