This site is intended for health professionals only

On board the Amazon Hope

Practice nurse Rhona Aikman is the newest member of the Nursing in Practice editorial advisory panel. In her first blog she talks about her experiences of working on Amazon Hope, a floating medical centre in Peru

I had been wondering for a couple of weeks when it would be my turn as a new member of the panel to write my first blog. Suddenly an email arrives and it's due in a few days. Panic sets in, what will I write about? My sons comment was that I usually have plenty to say.

I have attended Nursing in Practice Events in Glasgow for the last two years as a delegate and also to help promote the Scottish Practice Nurse Association (SPNA). It was through my involvement with the SPNA that I joined the editorial advisory panel for NiP.

I have worked in Gourock Health Centre as a practice nurse since 1990 when the previous GP contract was introduced. It is a medium-sized practice on the west coast of Scotland with 4.5 GPs, myself and another part-time practice nurse. The practice has been going through a period of change with two GPs retiring last year. My present role is very different from the early years; practice nursing has really come a long way in a relatively short time. Personally I feel my job is much more interesting now. The new GMS contract has continued to impact on the workload and also influences the way we work. While it has brought improvements in patient care, the role of the practice nurse must not become too focused on ticking boxes.

The last year has had its highs and lows. I was disappointed with the Review of Nursing in the Community (2006). This focused on the way care is delivered in the community yet practice nursing is not addressed. One of my highlights from last year was the two weeks I spent in Peru onboard the Amazon Hope. The converted tender is run by The Vine Trust, a Scottish charity that works in partnership with Scripture Union Peru and the Peruvian health authorities to provide medical and dental care to remote Amazonian communities, which are only accessible by river. Each month a team of volunteers from the UK fly out to Peru and work for two weeks living aboard the boat. Teams consist of nurses, dentists and doctors and sometimes other allied professions. Also on board will be Peruvian medical and nursing staff who are employed by the charity. The combined teams are about nine plus the crew.

We saw and treated just over 1,300 patients. There are very few investigations available on board so you have to rely very much on clinical skills. Villagers speak Spanish, but fortunately we had two translators on board. It was an incredible couple of weeks. Sue, the other nurse, and myself had a crash course in dental nursing the first day as we did not have a dental nurse so we had to take day about helping the dentist. Quite an experience when you are a bit, no very, squeamish about anything to do with dentists. By the end we could manage most dental consultations without a translator using a handful of Spanish phrases. Between three and five cases of malaria were seen and treated each day. There will soon be a follow-up to last year's TV programmes about the Amazon Hope and Amazon Hope 2 on STV. I would encourage anyone thinking about volunteering to watch and also check out the Vine Trusts website

I am looking forward to attending the NiP Event in Glasgow in March. The programme looks very interesting and it is always good to meet up with other primary care colleagues. If you have not attended a NiP Event give it a try.