Geraldine Russell is a Specialist in Special Care Dentistry at Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust and has championed dental services and improving oral health and care for frail older people in Solihull. She set up the Older People’s Service in 2012 and leads the team. Together they have improved domiciliary dental care for those most in need, developed an oral care training package for use in care homes in Solihull, as well as championing the care of patients with advanced dementia and providing training in dementia friendly dentistry.
Photo caption: Geraldine Russell (right) with the 2016 Health Professional winner, Dr Reema Swarna
Geraldine takes up her story.
We have a great team and we work closely with the broader specialist dental team. We love working with older people and celebrate older age. We are looked on as the gold standard for domiciliary care in Birmingham and Solihull. We have tested lots of ways of helping people in their own home and been able to evidence it’s not only better for the person but can be a more efficient way of operating the service.
I am very proud of our team. The older people part of the team is made up of two dentists and three dental nurses. A key focus for us is working with care homes, which can be both challenging and rewarding. We are always trying to improve the services we offer. Two of my dental nurses have completed a health education qualification which means they can teach carers in the homes about oral care for the residents. Several of us in the team trained as Dementia friends Champions. Building on this we now offer courses for dentists in dental practice, on dementia friendly dentistry.
And we are always on the look out for inspiration. We recently attended a Conference at the British Society of Gerontology. The chair, for the first time ever was a dental nurse. This really inspired my nurses. By attending events like this it gives us ideas for ways of working and strategies for tackling some of the challenges we face without having to ‘reinvent the wheel’.
What motivates me to do my job? I just love it! It’s an honour and a privilege to work with older people and we have a lot of fun! I also had a personal experience with my mother in law who lived with Dementia. She lived with us for a few months before she passed away. I would never turn down anyone asking me to come and talk about Dementia now.
When treating people with dementia, if they are distressed or angry, we try to keep calm and see the person for who they are. Domiciliary care means you can see the person’s home and life - pictures on the wall, an MBE, rosettes from horse riding. It makes the job much easier. I also don’t think you can go far wrong by keeping in mind what would you want for your mum or dad.
I’m not very good at blowing my own trumpet so having recognition from the Solihull Together Awards was good. But none of this is just me, it’s the whole team. It was lovely when patients came in with cut outs from the papers about the team.
It would be nice to see more recognition for the good work going on in community services. It can feel a bit separate from the hospital. I’ve worked for a long time in health and social care and seen lots of models where we have worked together and separately. Together is always better. It does feel disjointed in Solihull both between the hospital and community services and health and social care. Lots of good work goes on, for example, we are now involved in developing the Dementia strategy but I think we could work together more effectively.
Another big challenge is resource. The work we can do can be limited. So if I had more resource I would invest it in more preventative work, which would reduce costs in the long run. For example, we did some work with dementia cafes to catch people in the early stages of dementia to be able to plan care more effectively for later on down the line.
I am retiring in 2018, so the teaching and mentoring aspect of my role has become very important to me. I get quite nervous presenting but really enjoy it. I plan to carry on doing courses in dementia friendly dental practice for anyone who wants me! After 40 years in dentistry I’ve got some great stories to tell. When I retire I think I’ll write a book called ‘It shouldn’t happen to a dentist’.