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A day in the life of ... a SSAFA Forces Help nurse

Almost seven years ago when scanning a nursing magazine I found the perfect job for my husband - only problem was that it was working for a charity called SSAFA Forces Help and the job was in Germany!

I had vaguely heard of SSAFA but knew little about the work they did with the Armed Forces. However, my husband's application was successful and a few months later I found myself in a "new" world.


SSAFA Forces Help is a registered charity that is contracted by the Ministry of Defence to provide healthcare to soldiers and their families in a variety of countries across the world.
My husband was employed as a civilian Community Psychiatric Nurse and is part of a team of nurses providing mental healthcare across Germany.
Within two weeks of arriving in Germany my son was settled into a school run by the Service Children's Education and enjoying being in a smaller class than he had been in Scotland. The children in his class were used to others joining and leaving throughout the year, as parents are posted every two or three years, and readily helped him to settle.

Our furniture arrived and the flat provided with the job soon became home. I found my way to the medical centre and was interviewed for a practice nurse job. This was a world away from anything I had done in the past 27 years in nursing. However, armed with lots of experience and transferable skills, I commenced on a new career. In some ways it was quite overwhelming. I had to learn a new language - not German, but military abbreviations! Quite a difficult task and one I have yet to master.
The staff at the medical centre comprised a mixture of military nurses and civilian personnel who were employed by SSAFA in the UK and posted to Germany, or like myself employed locally. We started off in the north of Germany but three years ago were transferred to the Rhine region near Dusseldorf.

I now work as a Senior Primary Care nurse and have responsibility for the nurses in two medical centres. The medical centres provide healthcare for a population of approximately 11,000 service and civilian personnel plus their families. The nursing team is a mixture of military and civilian nurses and primary care assistants who provide 24-hour care for the community. The families based out here have access to the full ranges of services that they would have if they were living in the UK.

A typical day for me begins as it does for any working parent, trying to get my 14-year old "Kevin" up and out in time to catch the school bus. He has adapted well to life in Germany and is now studying for his GCSEs. I leave before the school bus and drive the four miles from home to work down the "wrong" side of the road. A scary experience when I first arrived, but I quickly adapted.

The eight o'clock start allows me the opportunity to see the night staff and discuss any issues or difficulties they may have had.

At half past eight the morning clinics begin in both medical centres. We generally have a queue of soldiers waiting to be seen with anything from minor ailments to injuries. Due to their occupational duties they are unable to stay off work without having been seen by a doctor or a nurse. As the day progresses they are joined by families who also require care. This clinic runs all day, and the nurses will assess and treat what they can or will refer on to the GPs if required. Alongside this clinic, a nurse runs a treatment clinic dealing with venepuncture, wounds, BP monitoring, etc.
Also between 8.30am and 10am we have a telephone triage system operating where patients can call for advice or help and be given appointments as required. I then drive across to the smaller of the two medical centres. Here the clinics are run in the same way, but it is only open 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday. A quick update with the staff is all I have time for today.

This morning I also have to attend a military briefing on Casualty Notification. This is part of the preparations for Unit deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq, which is taking place later this year. The military has a very interesting approach to dealing with breaking potentially bad news. Quite different from how a nurse would deal with this, but nevertheless a very organised and well-planned approach.
A variety of nurse-led specialist clinics are provided into the afternoons, dealing with family planning, childhood immunisations, travel health and asthma.

At five o'clock the clinics finish, but the medical centre remains open to deal with any emergencies that may occur in the "silent" hours.
We are fortunate to have an excellent training and development department, which provides us with access to professionally recognised courses that help develop our nursing skills.

As well as the day-to-day running of the nursing service, I have an input into the monthly clinical governance meetings, as well as the monthly team leaders' meeting in which local issues are discussed.
Our population is basically young and healthy, and we do not see some of the chronic health problems experienced by many of the primary care teams in the UK.

Working in an English-speaking community in the heart of Europe is always challenging, as we have to help our patients cope with different approaches to healthcare, as well as cope with the language barriers.

Life outside work is interesting; as we live so close to many of the major European cities there is always somewhere to go and explore. My ability to converse in German is still limited, but living so close to France, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg I have at least mastered the art of shopping in several languages!