Katie Ballance is a clinical nurse specialist, working in autism inpatient services.
She works at Mitford Unit, part of Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, a provider of mental health and learning disability services.
Mitford provides a service to adults who are on the autism spectrum. The unit has been purpose-built and designed for people who need highly specialised care. Mitford has a strong focus on working with families and carers to get people back home as soon as possible.
A typical day for Katie involves chairing multi-disciplinary team meetings and making recommendations for patients. She reviews risk assessments and observations of patients, looking at potential current or pressing risks.
“We follow a pathway in the service,” Katie explained. “My job is to lead and make sure that pathway is embedded.”
The pathway begins with admissions. Mitford is a national service with patients from all over the UK so Katie’s role often involves travel for assessments.
Assessments are to see if people are suitable for the service. If it’s decided that a person doesn’t need to come into inpatient services, the team can make recommendations and scaffold support. Katie added: “If we decide someone would be suitable for Mitford they go on the waiting list. We ensure we keep in touch with people while they’re on the waiting list and members of the team go to visit them to make the transition as easy as possible.”
Mitford is different in the sense that discharge is talked about from very early on in a person’s stay; the plan is usually for a patient to be there for 18 to 22 months.
Katie started in the Trust as a nursing assistant at Northgate Hospital in 1999, working on an acute mental health learning disability ward. Following a secondment opportunity, she did a university course before going to work in the community and setting up a community home.
Katie came back into autism services as a registered nurse after having a family. “I feel there are lots more opportunities for progression in autism services now,” she said. “I think autism services were forgotten about for a long time but that all changed with Mitford.” While working on an autism inpatient unit can be challenging, Katie says her job is extremely rewarding and she feels she is able to make a difference all the time.
For Katie, the best part of the job is working with patients and their families. “Seeing patients go on home visits who haven’t been able to go home for years is wonderful,” she said. “To see a patient’s full journey is lovely and it doesn’t end when they leave Mitford, we stay in touch with patients and get updates on how people are doing.”
Katie said hardest part of the job is during the early stages of treatment and having to keep up staff morale when things are difficult.
“Mitford is a tertiary unit so often people are here as a last resort,” she added. “Patients’ families are often exhausted with services and desperate after years of their lives being upside down with little consistency or support.”
Katie said she would encourage anyone to become a nurse and particularly enjoys seeing the younger generation of nurses coming through.
She added: “My advice for new nurses would be to take every opportunity that comes their way. In these times, it shows just how dedicated everyone is.”