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Women’s service launched amid UK shortage



While there is increasing provision nationally for neuropsychiatric care, against a background of the growing need for such facilities, surprisingly little is dedicated to female care.

Units which are male-only can be found across the country, but the provision for dedicated women’s facilities is, by comparison, low. Often, women needing this neuropsychiatric support are directed to hospital or care facilities, rather than receiving the specialist services they badly need.

This is being addressed with the opening of a new facility which, while based in the North of England, will have a national reach to help ease the pressure on the minimal resources across the UK.

Cygnet Newham House, the first women-only neuropsychiatric facility in Cygnet Health Care’s national portfolio, will provide 12 hospital beds for women aged 18 and over, alongside eight on-site transitional care beds in two bungalows.

It opens in July and will offer clinical-led neuropsychiatric care and treatment for women with conditions which manifest primarily through challenging behaviour – including neurodegenerative diseases, dementia, various types of ABI including substance-related brain injury and functional neurological disorders.

Placements at the unit vary depending on the need of the individual. Women can be supported in their recovery for a short period of time, or, in the case of those with progressive diseases, can be helped over a longer period as their symptoms develop.

Centre manager David Williams, who has worked in nursing for over 25 years, holding a number of director-level roles in specialist healthcare businesses, is keenly aware of the need for a specialist female neuropsychiatric facility.

“There is a significant amount of people with ABI who also have psychiatric issues and need this specialist care. There are some who are in a hospital environment for their assessment, treatment, rehabilitation, but they really need a more appropriate pathway, which we can provide. We want to build on the neuropsychiatric services we have already at Cygnet by making sure we now have female services in place.”

 Plans for the facility, devised over a long period, have been built on the successes of Cygnet’s other specialist units across the country, while also being mindful of the specialist requirements of a female-only service.  

“Women’s services need to be tailored, this is an important service and we have a culture that looks after women and has women at the heart of what we’re doing,” says David.

“I’ve worked in lots of female low secure services, which have all the standard quality and compliance measures in place, but there are differences between genders which we have to cater for.

“We are diverse enough to appreciate that we need a broad range of activities, such as sports. It’s very person-centred and this approach is embedded into our culture here.” 

The nursing team has been trained in specialist neuropsychiatric care, although several staff members already have extensive experience in this area.

Training and strategy have been supported by Cygnet’s approach of sharing information and examples of best practice within the group, as well as being influenced by other national neuropsychiatric networks.  

“We are offering holistic care but with specialised interdisciplinary teams which have specialised training. This is very important to us in being at the forefront of treatment and care, and in offering our person-centric approach.   

“Care pathways could be very different for different people, but we will have the capability to respond to that. This is where our specialism comes in and we want to understand how that person works. We need to look at the full pathway for the patient, how best to empower them and enable them to be as independent as possible and have the provision to do that.

“We will also be working with family members who remember the person prior to their brain injury or neuropsychiatric issue, and that valuable insight will feed into the care we provide.”

With the development of Cygnet Newham House starting long before COVID-19 was on the horizon, it is somewhat unfortunate that its opening coincides with the pandemic, which has presented a number of challenges along the way. 

However, says David, challenge can bring opportunity, with the team already adapting to new ways of working to ensure they remain on track for a July opening.

“Our grand opening day, which has been so long in the planning, is going ahead but with as minimal risk as possible. We are supplying masks and gloves and visitors can book in appointments, to ensure they can still visit and that they and our staff are protected. 

“It adds another layer of challenge but boils down to good infection control. We have support in terms of PPE and testing, so we feel well prepared but it does add an extra consideration. We need to make sure people are tested when they come in and are isolated if needs must, as we would if they were in the community, but we are prepared for that.

“Our recruitment has also been done via video calls, which has been a big change for us. Interviewing people has gone very well and non-attendance has been almost non-existent. It has in some ways been more personable doing it this way. We’ve been able to have a better conversation with people as it feels more informal, which can often get the best out of candidates.

“For the sector as a whole, I think there is the opportunity to change massively for the better. We can become more environmentally friendly and we can introduce more intellectual ways of involving people using technology. There are certainly opportunities to be taken.”   

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Two major neuro events postponed due to COVID-19



The Neuro Convention and The National Paediatric Brain Injury Conference have both been postponed

Two significant events in neuro practitioners’ calendars have been delayed until later in the year, as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt.

The National Paediatric Brain Injury Conference, which was already revised from an in-person to online event, will now not go ahead as planned in February due to the continuing demands on frontline healthcare professionals as COVID-19 cases continue to rise and the country is plunged back into lockdown.

The event, organised by The Children’s Trust, is now earmarked for May 13, although that is subject to further developments in the pandemic.

The ‘Connections and Collaborations’ conference is set to attract an international audience and will hear from an array of speakers from around the world, many of whom are global leaders in the field of paediatric neuro care.

Explaining the postponement, Dalton Leong, chief executive of The Children’s Trust, says: “Over the years, a high number of attendees are from the NHS, including consultants, doctors, surgeons, nurses, and therapists.

“We know that many of these staff are being redeployed to support the Covid pandemic.

“To run a conference at this time, taking them away from delivering vital frontline services, does not seem a sensible option. We look forward to holding the conference later in the year when, hopefully, these pressures have reduced.”

As well as the conference, the Neuro Convention too has been postponed, moving from March until September to enable delegates to attend in person.

The event, held at the Birmingham NEC, typically attracts around 3,000 people from across the country, and organisers hope that by delaying the date, it will give the best chance of lockdown and social distancing measures being lifted to allow them to go ahead.

In addition to the event planned for September 15 and 16 – although that too may be subject to change – an additional digital version of Neuro Convention is set to go ahead in March, enabling neuro professionals to still receive the insight and analysis planned for the NEC event in an online format.

Neuro Convention is hailed as being Europe’s only specialist trade event for brain and spine experts, and boasts an array of internationally-respected speakers and leaders in their field.

“We have been in consultation with various Government departments and whilst the rollout of the vaccine has given the country much needed optimism, we have been advised that we will be unable to host the Neuro Convention event in the spring,” say event organisers Roar B2B.

“The safety of our visitors, customers, partners and staff is paramount. We are confident that moving the event to September will enable us to run the safe, successful event the industry demands.

“To support our exhibitors, partners and the wider industry we are delighted to announce an additional digital version of Neuro Convention. This will provide a digital meeting place, world-class speaking sessions and access to the latest products and services.”

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Arm and hand function could be regained following spinal cord injury through new pioneering research



Treatment could be developed for arm and hand dysfunction in people living with spinal cord injury through a pioneering new research project.

A pilot study of new therapy for improving upper extremity function is now underway, following funding from BrainQ Technologies – an Israel-based startup which is working widely in precision medicine to reduce disability following neurodisorders – to the Kessler Foundation.

The study is titled ‘The safety and effectiveness of the use of a brain-computer interface-based electromagnetic field treatment in the management of patients with chronic spinal cord injury: A pilot study’ and is seen as a potentially significant breakthrough in researching possible treatment.

It will be led by Dr Ghaith Androwis, a research scientist in the Centre for Mobility and Rehabilitation Engineering Research at Kessler Foundation, and Dr Steven Kirshblum, senior medical officer and director of the Spinal Cord Injury Program for Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, who received the grant to further their work in the field.

Thousands of new traumatic spinal cord injuries occur each year, with statistics showing around 17,500 of those are from the United States alone, and more than half of those people experience loss of motor function of the upper extremities which limits their independence and adversely affects their quality of life.

“To achieve the best outcomes after spinal cord injury, restoring arm and hand function must be a priority in rehabilitative care,” says Dr Kirshblum.

“This study is an important first step towards increasing the ability of individuals to function more independently at home, in their communities, and the workplace.”

During the study – which will be conducted in the US and Israel – researchers will test the safety and efficacy of noninvasive low frequency electromagnetic field stimulation delivered via the BQ System.

Individuals with spinal cord injury (duration 18-30 months) will participate in the 34-week study. Functional status will be measured at baseline and compared with status following the experimental treatment.

By quantifying gains in motor function, motor control and activities of daily living, this pilot study will provide preliminary information on the potential application of BrainQ’s therapy in rehabilitation programs for individuals with disability.

“We are very interested in testing the effectiveness of this novel and non-invasive approach in persons with spinal cord injury,” adds Dr. Androwis.

“Such interventions may improve participants’ performance of activities of daily living leading to gains in their overall quality of life. This particularly is important when an intervention can be provided simultaneously with conventional therapy.”

This multi-site study is being conducted at Kessler Foundation, The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, Miami, and Sheba Medical Center, Israel.

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‘My brain is slipping into my spine’



Karl Johnston suffers from a rare condition called Chiari Malformation Type 1

After years spent in pain and struggling for a diagnosis, Karl Johnston felt relief when he was confirmed as having a little-known condition where the brain effectively slips into the spine. Here, he shares his story.

“Some dads get to put their children on their shoulders, but I’ve never got to do that.”

That is just one of the day-to-day realities facing Karl Johnston, whose condition, Chiari Malformation Type 1, means his brain is effectively slipping into his spine.

For eight years, Karl had experienced a catalogue of symptoms, including intense and debilitating neck pain, light-headedness, fatigue and numbness in his arms, but without securing a diagnosis of his condition.

But now, the 35-year-old admits he feels some relief at the knowledge he has Chiari Malformation Type 1, as devastating as the diagnosis was to receive.

“A lot of people felt sorry for me when I finally got a diagnosis, but it was a relief because I’d been telling people that I was suffering for years and they hadn’t believed me,” says Karl, from Wallasey, on Merseyside.

“You start to question yourself about things. Just knowing takes a lot of the weight off you.

“Some days the pain is so much that it’s difficult to move around and all I want to do is lie down.”

The biggest difficulty emotionally, says Karl, is the impact it has on his ability to play with his daughter Seren.

“It’s devastating when she wants to play and I’m not up to it,” he says.

“Some dads get to put their children on their shoulders, but I’ve never got to do that.”

While Chiari Malformation Type 1 is most commonly diagnosed in adults, it is believed to often be present from birth.

Many people with the condition are asymptomatic, meaning it is only found if they have an MRI scan.

Karl had symptoms from when he was a teenager, but getting a diagnosis was difficult due to the lack of awareness around the condition.

He is now determined to help raise awareness of Chiari Malformation Type 1, in the hope that others may be able to secure a diagnosis quicker than his.

“There needs to be a way to make doctors and people in general more aware of these rarer conditions because otherwise people just fall through the cracks,” says Karl.

The dad-of-one has been supported by The Brain Charity, a national charity based in Liverpool that supports people with all forms of neurological conditions. Statistics show that 1 in 6 people in the UK is currently living with such a condition.

The charity recently told NR Times that demand for its services had soared by over 70 per cent since the start of lockdown in March, with predictions that the numbers of people needing support with issues including mental health, Long Covid and employment rights would grow further still.

Having turned to the charity last year, Karl is now getting the practical and emotional support he needs to get on with his life.

“The Brain Charity helped me get a better understanding of what was going on with my condition,” he says.

“It has felt like so many people haven’t taken me seriously but The Brain Charity has.

“They didn’t pity me but tried to understand what I was going through.”

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