Liver Specialist Nurse Alex Allcoat based at St Helens & Knowsley Teaching Hospital has been awarded the 2023 HUK Nursing & Healthcare Practitioner Best Practice Award. This award recognises a nurse-led research project that advances patient safety and/or the care of people with genetic haemochromatosis.

Speaking on behalf of the judging panel, HUKs CEO Neil McClements said - "The judges were really impressed by Alex's determination not to leave any GH patient behind following the Covid pandemic. Her approach combined pro-active collaborations across hospital departments to deliver improved patient care for people affected by genetic haemochromatosis. This holistic approach to patient welfare demonstrates repeatable good practice that other NHS hospitals could follow."

Alex will collect her award at the RCN Congress in May. We spoke with Alex to understand her motivations behind her award-winning project and to learn more about her work.

"I’m a Liver Specialist Nurse based at St Helens & Knowsley Teaching Hospital, and I recently became Lead Haemochromatosis Nurse too. There’s a history of haemochromatosis in my family, so it was something I was interested in for both professional and personal reasons.

Throughout the pandemic, some of our haemochromatosis patients had lost touch with us so we suspected that they were not receiving venesection treatment. Previously there had been no Haemochromatosis Specialist Lead for these patients, so they were seen by different members of the Gastroenterology Team at the Trust. 

My initial thoughts were for me to identity how we could make the experience better for them, and how we could monitor patients who might need further tests or symptom management. When I started looking back through our database as part of an audit, we had far more haemochromatosis patients than we realised.

Working with our IT team, I started updating our database of patients with relevant - and up to date - information. We then began the process of contacting every single patient individually by letter to inform them of the new service and an appointment would be made for each patient to discuss their condition.

When the database was audited, we found that 52% of the people were classed as high priority and 38% needed to have further scans for conditions linked to haemochromatosis (eg fibroscan) to measure liver stiffness and DEXA scans to measure bone density. Some of these scans led to further investigations and associated diagnoses, which we could then refer for treatment.

It helped our haemochromatosis patients to take more ownership of their condition and to ensure they had regular blood tests, treatments, and monitoring if they were required. The new database and coordinated approach also meant that they were getting more of a streamlined, effective pathway to managing their condition.

We’re now getting more direct referrals from many different areas this includes GP’s, Advanced Nurse Practitioners and other healthcare professionals, which means we can contact and monitor our patients with haemochromatosis straight away to make sure they’re getting the right care. Now, newly diagnosed patients get an information pack and a referral to the clinic. They get to ask questions, raise any concerns, and get a better understanding of haemochromatosis.

Haemochromatosis patients are also informed that they are able to contact the team directly via a liver helpline should they have any concerns or queries in between blood tests or telephone appointments.

In addition, we’re running education sessions for staff - including hosting a stand during Haemochromatosis Awareness Week - and we’re looking to make it easier for our patients who are managing their haemochromatosis to go to blood donor clinics as it is well known that there is a national blood shortage."

Entries for the 2024 award open on 1st May. For further details, visit the awards page.