‘Nurse of the Year’ gong for addiction support

A mental health nurse who set up a service to help addicts get the help they need in the community has been named Northern Ireland’s ‘Nurse of the Year’ for 2022.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 17th June 2022, 6:43 pm

Gary Rutherford, from Londonderry, was presented with the Royal College of Nursing accolade at an awards ceremony attended by Health Minister Robin Swann at the Culloden Hotel, Holywood, on Thursday night.

Mr Rutherford was working in acute psychiatric admission wards and as an addiction nurse therapist in the Western Trust when he observed a gap in support services within the community. He initially set up the ARC addiction recovery service as a sign-posting service to help people to access appropriate help and support in community settings.

From the outset, demand was high and the award-winning nurse made the tough decision to give up his post within the Trust’s addiction service to focus on this work. The community-based, not-for-profit organisation employs two full-time staff with a support team of 14, including mental health nurses, therapists, counsellors, personal trainers and peer recovery coaches.

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Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen, nurse of the year Gary Rutherford, and Health Minister Robin Swann

Having helped a wide range of people struggling with substance abuse, ARC’s patient-reported outcome measures show reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety, and positive social contacts between participants.

Gary’s nominator, Yvonne McWhirter, described him as “an inspirational nurse who continues to keep his focus and priority on high standards and quality of care using innovative and relevant delivery”.

Runner-up on the evening was Lesley McKillen, from Ballyclare, home manager at MD Healthcare. Lesley was nominated for developing a centre of excellence for residents with complex tracheostomy needs in a supportive care home environment. This service is rarely provided in a care home because of the specialist clinical skills required for patients, who would otherwise need hospital care.

In a speech during the ceremony, the Health Minister said: “Many times I have shared my gratitude for the contribution you have made to Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care system, particularly over the past two years in which services have had to be continually adapted in response to Covid-19, and you have all made a tremendous effort to do your job in exceptional circumstances. And despite the unprecedented pressures that you have faced in our fight against the virus, you have overcome these challenges and delivered some truly remarkable achievements.”

Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, Rita Devlin, said: “Through his innovative and caring approach to care, Gary has changed the lives of many for the better.”