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New Year’s honour for ‘inspiring’ former Solihull nurse

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A former Solihull nurse has said she is ‘humbled’ after being awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours for her work supporting patients and families at the end of their lives.

Helen Meehan was nominated for the honour by head nurse at Solihull Hospital and Community Services Vanessa Wort and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group in recognition of her ‘significant’ and ‘lasting’ impact on end of life care in the borough.

While at Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Solihull Hospital and Community Services, as clinical lead for end of life care she led on a variety of projects, including the development of the ‘My Life’ initiative to support patients and their families with thinking about and sharing their wishes for future care.

The 50-year-old has been in nursing for 32 years and has worked in palliative care for over 20 years, first as a district nurse, then as Macmillan clinical nurse specialist for Solihull Community Services and as a lead nurse for palliative care in Solihull from 2004. She now works in a similar role at Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust.

Helen, formerly of Shirley, has been married to husband Kevin for 27 years and is mum to daughter Lucy, a doctor, and son Tom, a Royal Marine Commando. Helen was inspired to go into nursing by her mum who was also a nurse and said news of the award had taken her completely by surprise.

She said: “I feel so very honoured to be receiving this award. I really did not expect it so it was an amazing surprise. I recognise that I would not be able to do what I have done without the support of my colleagues and the trust they had in me to try and do things differently.

“I feel very privileged to have worked with so many amazing people and teams in my nursing career, many that have been willing to try new ways of working with me, to strive to be the best that they can be, to support some of our most vulnerable patients and families. I feel so very proud to be flying the flag for nursing.”

Helen qualified as a nurse in January 1987 and had her first staff nurse post on an oncology ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. She then started her midwifery training in 1988 at Solihull Hospital School of Midwifery and qualified as a midwife in 1990 before moving into palliative care.

“I have always felt that supporting patients nearing the end of life and their families enables you to truly use your skills as a nurse,” Helen added. “To care for the dying person and their family is a privilege. As a lead nurse I feel passionately about enabling all staff to do the best that they can do, to care with compassion and to enable the patient and their family to be supported with dignity and respect.

“I feel so humbled that Vanessa and colleagues at Solihull CCG and Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust put me forward for this award. Solihull and the Trust will always hold a special place in my heart as my colleagues there enabled me to grow and be the nurse I always wanted to be.”

Vanessa Wort, head nurse at Solihull Hospital and Community Services, said the award for Helen was thoroughly deserved.

She said: “I’m so delighted that Helen has been given this richly deserved honour. We were all sad to see Helen go last year but what she has left behind is a legacy that defines how we deliver end of life care for people in Solihull.

“I have had the opportunity to work with some truly inspiring individuals, yet none have had such a profound impact as Helen. The last seven years working with her have been an absolute privilege through which I, like so many others, have learnt so much.”

Dr Patrick Brooke, accountable officer of Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We are so pleased that Helen has been given this honour, which she thoroughly deserves. Her work has given great comfort to many patients and their families and she is an inspiration to colleagues.”