Our Senior Matron looks back on her career with a sense of pride

A nursing career that started with a fire and was inspired by an experience in the Girl Guides is coming to a close.

Our Senior Matron looks back on her career with a sense of pride

But for Oxford Health’s Community Hospitals Senior Matron and Clinical Lead, Helen Lambourne, there’s lots to look back on but also lots to look forward to.

Helen will be retiring from nursing after 41 years in nursing, much of which has been spent with Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.

Seeing life with the lid off

She explains: “I remember my first day as a nurse very vividly at the beginning of 1980 at St Bart’s in London.

“We all filed into the lecture theatre and we had to stand up when the director of nursing walked in.

“She said that we would see ‘life with the lid off’ but also that it would be a privilege and that has stayed with me. It’s never been boring ever – challenging yes, boring no!”

Helen’s first taste of nursing came when, as a Guide, she earnt her community service badge working with children with special needs.

And her professional career started with a baptism of fire of sorts. “I used to hate exams and at St Barts the night before the exams there was a fire at the nurses home.

“We had to go and stay at the A+E until four in the morning. We were in the exam at 9am and given the opportunity to postpone it. I decided not to and I ended up doing well and won a prize! I still have a vivid memory of that day of the firemen coming in with masks on.”

Her passion for nursing has also resulted in her being given the title of Queen’s Nurse – a honour that is available to individual nurses who have demonstrated a high level of commitment to patient care and nursing practice.


Pandemic the biggest test

With a working life that has included time as a district nurse, practice and research nurse, health visiting and working in intensive care there have been many challenges. However Helen believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest test she has faced in her career and also something that has shown the true worth of her colleagues.

She explained: “I have seen first hand in the pandemic just how amazing our staff have been. They have really gone the extra mile and more.

“We have had staff coming in and doing extra shifts and staff moving to work in other hospitals. We have also had people that have come from other disciplines that have come in to help us and they have been amazing too.

“I am leaving with a sense of pride as I feel I have seen the best of human nature – it’s what nursing is about.”

Although her position at Oxford Health is a senior one, Helen is never far from day to day life in community hospitals.

“My current job as a strategic one but I do get onto the wards and speak to patients about their experience and the care that we give,” she said. “Sometimes I actually get to do a bit of nursing care with patients.

“I have eight wards and six hospitals across the county to keep in touch with and that is a challenge in itself. Staying linked in with all wards is a challenge but I think I have done it reasonably well.

“I think that community hospitals will go from strength to strength. The pandemic has shown that we are a real partner in the health system.”


Nursing is a great career

Helen is also keen to urge anyone considering a career in nursing to take the plunge and find out more. She said: “I would recommend anyone thinking of being a nurse to go for it. If you like working with people you will find your niche. If I was 18 again I would do it all over again!

“I feel very fortunate to get to the end of a career with such a wide range of experiences and I can say, like I did to a student this morning, it’s really a career within a career. You can always move to something different within the job and find something that really suits you.

“People now have the same worries and anxieties as they did when I started in the 80s and that’s why nursing is so good.

“I have nursed people from all walks of life from lords and ladies to the homeless. When someone comes into hospital they are vulnerable and so it doesn’t matter who they are – they have come for help. You can’t teach kindness and that’s what you need if you are going to work with people who are vulnerable – everyone who comes into a hospital is vulnerable.

“In nursing you get up and you can’t predict the day. That’s what makes life interesting.”


And now to the future

So, what does life after nursing hold for Helen? While she may not be working in hospitals there’s more than enough on the horizon to keep her busy.

Helen said: “I live on a farm and do get involved there. I do love creativity too, so I plan to have six months out to do lots of creative things and see what happens.

“There’s so much to do as well as the farming and creating I have grandchildren and I really want to get back into running.

“I ran London in 2008 and raised £8,000 for a meningitis charity enjoyed it but I don’t relish all the preparation you need but I will get back into half marathons.”

You can hear more from Helen when she spoke on BBC Radio Oxford here – Kat Orman – 05/07/2021 – BBC Sounds (from 14 minutes).

Marie Crofts, Oxford Health’s Chief Nurse, said: “Helen is truly an inspiration to all those she comes into contact with.

“She has been a key authentic leader within our community hospitals pre and during the pandemic and has tirelessly galvanised and supported all our nursing workforce in these hospitals.

“She has been a hugely visible leader at all times often working on the frontline and never asking anyone to do something she wouldn’t do herself. She is not afraid of challenging those who do not uphold the highest nursing clinical standards and she to this end has been instrumental in the improvement of the community hospitals over the last two years.

“She will be greatly missed within community services but also by me as one of my loyal senior matrons. Have a wonderful retirement Helen – you definitely deserve it!”

Emma Leaver, service director, said: “I first came across Helen when she was working in the Family Nurse Partnership for Oxford Health some years ago. Helen is someone who gives her all, and some, to nursing and who sets her expectations high. Her focus is always on the quality of care received by our patients, clients their families and their loved ones.

“Helen is tenacious in striving for improvement and has been a crucial member of our Community Hospitals team through the pandemic, a period that has challenged us all. Helen leaves behind a service in a stronger position than she found it, one with ambition and plans to get better and better.

“I am grateful for her relentless pursuit of perfection and her unwillingness to accept anything less! Go well and safely Helen- you will be missed. Thank you for your years of faithful service, and on a personal note- for challenging me in a supportive and helpful way, with integrity and with humour.”

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Published: 20 July 2021