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Peer supporter helps with COVID-19 effort

Posted: 27/05/20

Peer supporter and registered nurse apprentice Matthew Fairclough is finding ways to use his new-found skills from nurse training to help with the COVID-19 effort.

After 10 years as a peer supporter, Matthew is one year into a Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship, training to become a registered nurse while still supporting the community treatment team in North Tyneside.

With the current working restrictions in place in community teams due to COVID-19, the peer supporter role has been limited. As a result, Matthew has been redeployed to the new Universal Crisis Older Adult Team (UCOAT) based at St George’s Park.

This has been a completely new experience for Matthew, as peer supporters don’t usually work in to crisis teams. He has been able to use his new skills as an apprentice nurse to help, not just within UCOAT but also working with Psychiatric Liaison at Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital (NSECH) when required.

“While COVID-19 is having a major impact on services within the Trust, I have been able to step into more of a nursing role,” Matthew explained. “I’m still an apprentice which limits what I can do but it has not stopped me from being able to practice these new skills.”

Matthew says the Trust has been extremely responsive in the face of coronavirus. “We are all concerned about our clients. For some of them, the visits they get from the community team can be the only contact they have with another person all week.

“The community teams are facing these challenges as positively and proactively as possible while still ensuring support is available.”

Matthew started working for Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) as a peer support volunteer and at one point was the only peer supporter within CNTW.

Peer supporters support service users with their care and treatment. They draw on their own lived experiences to share insight, understanding and empathy with others on their journey to recovery.

A peer supporter’s job is to challenge the stigma around mental health and promote hope and recovery. They act as a voice for service users, helping staff in their understanding and awareness of what it means to be a service user and the day-to-day challenges that can be associated with that.

Matthew said: “I love my job and I’m very passionate about the peer supporter role, so much so I’m often asked why I decided to undertake the nursing degree.

“There can be some misunderstanding around the peer supporter role. I always aim to use my voice for the better of my clients and felt my voice would carry more weight and recognition if I had a professional qualification. The degree is a great opportunity for career progression while still being involved with patients.”

Matthew admits it can be difficult juggling the roles of peer supporter and student nurse. The degree involves splitting his time between course work and placements. He says he’s able to manage those to his team who give him support and guidance that is “second to none”.

For Matthew, the most important thing is to give meaning to someone’s recovery journey. He hopes that his career progression shows service users what they can achieve.

“My clients understand I’m undertaking my own recovery journey and hope that it shows there’s no limits to what someone can do.

“A diagnosis doesn’t define myself of anyone else. I want to be able to offer hope of what can be achieved regardless of diagnosis.”