ICU nurse leading national rehabilitation campaign

An intensive care nurse is leading a national campaign to ensure all patients can access rehabilitation services, regardless of where they live.

Kate Tantam, who works on an intensive care unit in south-west England, has called for all hospitals in the UK to have a rehabilitation lead and strategy.

“Everyone has a role to support somebody’s rehabilitation in hospital”

Kate Tantam

She told Nursing Times that she had launched the campaign to show that nurses can “change the narrative” when it comes to access to rehabilitation services.

In 2018, Ms Tantam founded the #RehabLegend social media campaign.

Initially just covering her trust, the campaign encouraged staff to share success stories of rehabilitation of patients after an illness, injury or procedure.

Ms Tantam bought 50 badges with the #RehabLegend tag on them and awarded them to nurses and other healthcare staff who were going above and beyond to promote patient rehabilitation.

However, it did not take long before the campaign snowballed on social media, with nurses from all over the UK sharing success stories.

To date, Ms Tantam said the campaign had reached over 40 million people on social media and that she had given out of 15,000 badges to healthcare professionals.

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“It’s about sharing rehabilitation stories, to innovate and share best practice,” she said.

Rehabilitation for patients, whether physical or psychological, can help reduce a length of stay in hospital and improve patient outcomes, explained Ms Tantam.

Despite this, she warned that many patients did not have access to rehabilitation services in their local area.

As such, Ms Tantam launched a petition earlier this month which has called for every hospital in the UK to have a rehabilitation strategy and rehabilitation lead.

The petition, backed by the #RightToRehab tag on social media, has gathered more than 4,000 signatures in just under two weeks.

Ms Tantam said: “It’s about trying to really promote the fact that rehabilitation matters.

“To make somebody better, it’s not just about cutting out their cancer or giving them medicine that will cure their infection, it’s about giving them back to themselves.

“We can only do that if we give them appropriate rehabilitation.”

This week, the #RightToRehab campaign stepped away from social media and onto the streets, by celebrating patients’ first footsteps and words after illness or injury.

In seven cities across England, Scotland and Wales, there are posters featuring real patient footprints, with a link to Ms Tantam’s petition.

“There’s patients who’ve had traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injuries, strokes and traumatic amputation, all of them taking their first steps,” said Ms Tantam.

Poster on a wall illustrated with footprints. It reads 'This is Paul learning to walk aged 61. A crash left Paul paralysed. Thanks to rehabilitation, he’s back on his feet. But shockingly, rehab isn’t available everywhere. Help us and this postcode lottery. Right to Rehab campaign.'

#RightToRehab posters feature in seven cities across the UK

Meanwhile, the other half of the project is a radio campaign featuring the voice of a stroke patient sharing some of their first words.

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Ms Tantam said: “Patients tell us that the thing they find hardest is to not be independently mobile and not be able to tell people how they’re feeling.

“Not being able to walk or talk is really challenging.”

The campaign has been backed by more than 20 organisations and charities representing a variety of health and care professionals, including the Queen’s Nursing Institute, the Royal College of Occupational Therapists and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

Ms Tantam explained that she wanted to show how rehabilitation was “multidisciplinary”.

She said: “I don’t care whether you are an executive, professor or porter, everyone has a role to support somebody’s rehabilitation in hospital.

“It’s relevant to everybody, but it’s making everyone see that and feel that and believe that they can change the course of the future.”

Reflecting on the success of her campaigning so far, Ms Tantam said it was about proving that healthcare professionals, especially nurses, “can change the narrative of what happens” when it comes to rehabilitation services.

She added: “I think a lot of people feel disempowered in the NHS, and I refuse to accept that narrative.

“I refuse to accept that, as nurses, we can’t change the trajectory of the NHS.

“I’ve got to be able to sit in clinic with my hand on my heart and say to patients ‘I have done everything I can to get you better rehabilitation services’.”

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