Getting to know you: Mark Oakley, Admiral Nurse

April 14, 2022

Since his appointment as Admiral Nurse last September at Wrightington Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Mark Oakley, has taken the service from strength to strength. 

Mark is one of 26 dementia specialist Admiral Nurses working in acute hospitals. Admiral Nurses provide life-changing support to families affected by all forms of dementia. In an acute care setting they ensure that hospital stays for patients with dementia and their families are grounded in communication, well-trained support from hospital staff, and the right discharge pathways from the hospital to the community if the needs of the patient changes. All of this can ensure that families do not get caught up in an endless cycle of discharge from hospital and then readmission due to needs not being met.  

Supporting more people

Since taking up his position, Mark has helped to increase the number of people Admiral Nurses are supporting at the hospitals by 400%. This is something he says was helped by his preparation for the post, long before he started:  

“I actually spent two to three months scoping out the role, as there hadn’t been a post like this for a number of years.”  

“I had a lot of support from Dementia UK and fellow Admiral Nurses to develop a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and referrals pathway. I had a fantastic induction and I have a Consultant Admiral Nurse to support me, Communities of Practice where you meet like-minded acute Admiral Nurses, and a clinical supervision where different Admiral Nurses learn from each other.” 

Mark Oakley

Training staff 

When Mark started out in the field of dementia care, awareness of the condition was not only limited amongst colleagues, but also in himself – dementia care training is still lacking in many undergraduate nursing degrees. Prior to his role as an Admiral Nurse, Mark spent time as a Ward Manager building up a dementia specialist facility in Macclesfield; it had a memory garden, the right signage, and the right care to ensure that patients were treated with dignity. This experience led to him imparting his knowledge to his current role.

“I prefer to be hands on and get to grips fully with a role and wanted to get it right.” In September, with everything in place to launch, Mark produced a resource for every ward on how the role works, including information for dementia champions as well as educational pieces to support the ward staff.

“We review and support the person who has been given or has a dementia diagnosis and a lot of work is spent supporting the patient’s family or staff who are looking after them discussing the best ways to care for them, manage symptoms and be part of a multidisciplinary approach to discharge.” 

The service also receives referrals for patients who don’t have a formal diagnosis of dementia but there are concerns about cognition. Since November 2020 patients have been referred to the Later Life and Memory Service (LLAMS) and through assessments as well as a deep-dive into the patient’s history and symptoms, a diagnosis can be given.  

“We had around 10-15 referrals in October/November. That went up to the mid-30s in December, almost 50 in January and in February we were up to 57.” So far, the service has been very positively received and is becoming widely accessed.

Mark Oakley speaking to a patient

Providing support 

Mark not only helps patients and their families but staff too, with his newly established staff support group.  

“As I was walking around the hospital, staff members would often approach me for guidance around how they could help their mum, their dad, their nan or other family members who might be living with dementia.  

“You forget, even though we’re nurses, we don’t know everything and looking after a family member is very different to looking after a patient, so I set up a support group for staff which now has around nine members,” says Mark.  

“I’m there to help, to listen, provide a shoulder to cry on, anything at all. I’ve helped people with referrals to care homes or social services but very often people just need permission to feel the way they’re feeling.  

“I have an open-door policy; people can call me at any time.”  

Mark knows only too well the challenges of dementia after his grandmother was diagnosed with the condition, something which actually pushed him to become a nurse. “The fact that I was entering a female-dominated industry didn’t phase me at all, I was doing this for Nan.” 

“If there had been an Admiral Nurse with my nan, I would have felt as though I had someone who I could talk to, who would understand how I was feeling and support me.” 

Investing in the role and the wider team  

The former Medical Assessment Unit Ward Manager now hopes to invest in his team – beginning with training a brand-new Admiral Nurse to join his team.  

“I have a new member of staff, Tracy Kirkham, who started training with me at the beginning of January. She’s done amazingly well.”  

“This is the best job in the world, I really, really love my job. It is everything I expected and more and I have never been as happy in a role. Every day I come to work refreshed and ready to go.”  

You can follow Mark to see how he continues to support WWL patients and staff by searching for @MarkOakley20 on Twitter 

Dementia UK has announced a recent £1.5 million investment in Admiral Nurse roles. Acute care roles like Mark’s will be an area of focus for the charity over the next year.  

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