Way out west - a profile of Vicky Flanagan

Vicky Flanagan is helping patients with neuromuscular conditions in Cornwall. Robert Milllett reports

Vicky Flanagan operates in a unique multi-agency capacity as a neuromuscular specialist physio for adults in Cornwall.

She works jointly for the South West Neuromuscular Network, a specialist clinical and support service for children and adults living with neuromuscular conditions, and Cornwall’s community service provider, Peninsula Community Health.

Her role started two years ago and gives her a ‘foot in two camps’, she says, as she takes on board the expertise of a clinical network and delivers it locally.

She is the first physio to hold this type of position in Cornwall, as similar roles have previously only been found in cities that are centres of excellence for neuromuscular disease, such as London, Newcastle and Oxford.

‘I’m mainly non-clinical and work in an advisory role,’ Miss Flanagan explains.

‘I facilitate how large community teams can knit together all the fragmented aspects of community care, to form patient-centred care plans and link with other services such as telehealth, out-of-hours and emergency services.’

Peninsula Health’s county-wide service provides person-centred rehabilitation across a variety of community settings and is integrated with health and social care organisations.

As part of the service’s community stroke and neurology rehabilitation team Miss Flanagan works with patients who have a neuromuscular diagnosis – most commonly muscular dystrophy.

She also provides data and information to local commissioning groups, third party organisations and the voluntary sector regarding best practice.

Additionally, Miss Flanagan is responsible for improving the expertise of non-specialist clinicians so they are better prepared to cope with the complexities of neuromuscular conditions.

This is achieved by providing support, educational opportunities and advice for health professionals in Cornwall, she says:  ‘This client group is new to many members of the community teams. So we are bringing expertise to the south west, identifying training needs and offering teaching that will up-skill clinicians.’

Cornwall’s neurological rehabilitation service also has links with Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth universities and Miss Flanagan is currently involved in a 12-month research project, examining the potential benefits of telehealth and community based respiratory care plans.

The feasibility study, focusing on non-ambulatory patients with confirmed respiratory failure caused by a neuromuscular illness, aims to recruit 10 adults from various parts of Cornwall.

The research provides patients with home-based support by using telehealth technology. Devices are used to monitor patients’ biometrics, recording vital signs such as heart rate and oxygen levels, and all the information is checked remotely.

‘Telehealth acts as a bottom line,’ says Miss Flanagan. ‘Should any of the biometrics or data recorded by the telehealth unit be outside a patient’s normal range, the telehealth nurses call the patient to triage and advise them on the necessary action.’

It is hoped the results of the study will help establish the best ways to reduce or prevent the number of lower respiratory tract infections that neuromuscular patients contract – and thereby minimise unplanned hospital admissions and the knock-on effects on patients, families and carers.

Miss Flanagan believes that telehealth could help enhance the quality of life of neuromuscular patients, and improve their ability to self-manage their condition.

‘Cornwall has a very rural geography, with one district hospital and long travel times, so telehealth can really help us keep in touch with both patients and local healthcare professionals,’ she adds.

For more information, email: Vicky.flanagan@pch-cic.nhs.uk

Robert Millett

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