A mile in my shoes

For Freemason Mark Ormrod, the battlefield injuries he sustained proved to be a springboard to reinvent his life. But not all veterans respond the same way. Peter Watts finds out how, thanks to masonic funding, Combat Stress provides psychiatric support for ex-personnel

Christmas Eve in 2007 began with an ordinary patrol for Mark Ormrod, a Royal Marine on tour in Afghanistan. It ended with Mark in a coma and undergoing a life-saving operation after an improvised explosive device was triggered, leaving him without both legs and an arm. 

As a triple amputee, Mark found that Freemasonry provided some of the support he needed to get on with his life, having been initiated into the Royal Marines Plymouth Lodge, No. 9528, in 2008 while in a wheelchair. Today, Mark has prosthetic limbs and is an author, mentor and motivational speaker. He credits Freemasonry with providing invaluable support at a difficult time. 

‘It’s a really important part of dealing with stuff in life, having people around you as friends and brothers,’ he says. ‘It was very reassuring to know I had people who were encouraging and empowering, and as I progressed through the lodge it helped in terms of confidence and leadership. It’s helped holistically, in all areas. I also like the fact that we work with charities. That’s very fulfilling – being able to help other people is very rewarding.’

One of those charities is Combat Stress, an organisation that supports veterans with mental health issues. With increased pressure on the NHS and more former servicemen and women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following gruelling experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) has awarded a £60,000 grant to Combat Stress to fund a community psychiatric nurse operating in the southwest of England, where Mark now lives.

For David Innes, the Chief Executive of the MCF and himself a retired British Army officer, there is a vital need for masonic support. ‘One of the core areas that the MCF supports on behalf of Freemasonry is helping as many people as we can who are suffering from social isolation and social exclusion – people who are not able to participate in society for a wide variety of reasons,’ says the former member of the Corps of Royal Engineers who reached the rank of Brigadier. 

‘If we can help those suffering from PTSD or mental health issues come to terms with the challenges they face, it gives them a chance to make something of the rest of their lives. Combat Stress does some fantastic work in this particular field.’

MENTAL HEALTH FOCUS

The MCF was particularly impressed with the focus Combat Stress gives to veterans with mental health issues, operating dedicated services from three regional hubs. ‘They are very focussed on helping those suffering from mental health issues – that is their core business. It’s what they are particularly good at, and they have a very good structure,’ says Innes. ‘The statistics they produce show that, in the vast majority of cases, they allow individuals to make significant improvements so they can get on with their lives.’

Combat Stress will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2019, having been founded after the First World War to support soldiers returning from the trenches. Today it offers clinical care so former servicemen and women have the tools and mechanisms they need to cope with their conditions. Care comes in a variety of forms, from occupational therapy and group counselling to a six-week residential course. 

The community psychiatric nurse funded by the MCF grant will provide support to around 500 ex-personnel. ‘The nurse will cover Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Bristol,’ explains Kirstie Tong, the trusts and foundations manager at Combat Stress. ‘In 2017, in the southwest, the community psychiatric nurse did 72 assessments for veterans with combat stress and 10 other assessments, and had 47 one-to-one appointments, 90 group contacts and 51 support-group contacts. The MCF grant will contribute towards a large part of the salary of this nurse until 2020. We are hugely grateful for the MCF and its continued support, which makes our work possible.’

Mark Ormrod didn’t require the support of Combat Stress as he recovered but recognises the importance of this type of work, particularly for former members of the armed forces, who may see mental health issues as a sign of weakness. ‘Although I’ve not worked with Combat Stress, I know it offers counselling, residential care and therapy,’ he says. ‘There’s a lot of stigma in the military with regard to mental health. People don’t always like going out and asking for support, but if it’s serious, you can point them towards the professionals at Combat Stress.’

OPENING UP

This stigma is slowly beginning to disappear. Tong says that while veterans of the Falklands War take an average of 15 years before contacting Combat Stress for support, a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan will do so in three years. That is unquestionably a positive thing, but it also means that Combat Stress faces increasing pressure on its services. ‘We have seen a 143 per cent increase in referrals in the last decade,’ says Tong. ‘We now support around 3,000 veterans across the armed forces each year and have 2,000 referrals. Around 80 per cent have PTSD and have experienced multiple traumas in their combat career.’

As Innes acknowledges from his own experience in the Corps of Royal Engineers, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were particularly traumatic: ‘Many of the men and women we are supporting now will have seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the intensity of those operations was ferocious.

‘People will have been exposed to events that, to be honest, are simply horrific,’ he says. ‘We are seeing an increase in PTSD as a result of those operations. Providing support to organisations like Combat Stress is vital. We are lucky today, because more is known about mental health than 40 years ago when I joined the army. It is discussed more widely, but soldiers still don’t tend to talk about things like that.’

Mark has found he can talk about his experiences with the Freemasons, who have provided him with an important support network after he left the friendship of the Royal Marines behind. ‘It filled that space, very much so,’ he says. ‘It’s the camaraderie, the brotherhood, the sense of belonging. Having that other family outside of your own, good people that you can rely on. I’m a little bit surprised at how important it’s become. What I love is that I have three children, I have three limbs missing, I have a full-time job, I travel a lot, and if I can’t make a meeting, I never get made to feel bad. They always say family first, then work, then lodge. That has allowed it to become a big part of my life. It’s never felt like hard work.’

A veteran’s story

David is a Royal Air Force veteran who started experiencing stress after leaving the armed services. After he had a stroke, he began to have anxiety attacks. 

Eventually, David contacted Combat Stress for advice and began to attend community group sessions. 

‘The groups are great,’ David says. ‘We are all different ages and from different walks of life, but in many ways we are all the same and experiencing the same things. ‘It’s made a huge difference to my happiness. The Combat Stress sessions help me better understand why I feel the way I do. 

‘In the military community we tend to think “just get on with it”, and unfortunately this might put people off seeking help. I’d say to others: listen to those close to you. You owe it to them to at least make that call to Combat Stress. You can be anonymous, but just talk to someone.’

Standing proud

Mark Ormrod is still feeling the effects of the landmine he stepped on 11 years ago. 

Quick action from his fellow Marines, and an innovative procedure carried out aboard a Chinook helicopter en route to the hospital, saved his life.

Mark woke up in Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, with both legs amputated above the knee and his right arm amputated above the elbow. The first triple amputee in the UK to survive the Afghanistan conflict, Mark was told by doctors he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Mark, however, decided to use his setback as a springboard for growth and reinvention.

He is now a motivational speaker, a peak performance coach and the author of the autobiographical Man Down. He has not used a wheelchair since June 2009.

Published in Features
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 00:00

Masonic funding is building bridges

Thanks to masonic funding, more WellChild Nurses like Rachel Gregory can help young people with exceptional health needs move from hospitals back into their homes, as Steven Short learns

Yesterday I travelled to deepest Lincolnshire for a home visit,’ says Rachel Gregory. ‘One of my children is starting school in September, so we had a final sign-off meeting to ensure everything is in place, and everyone is able to properly support his needs. We thought he might have to go to a special school – but he’s going to a mainstream school; it’s amazing.’

Rachel is a WellChild Nurse and her Lincolnshire child is one of around 100 under her team’s care. There are some 100,000 children and young people in the UK living with serious illness or exceptional health needs. Many of them spend months or even years in hospital because there is no support enabling them to leave.

The WellChild Nurse programme was established in 2006 to provide specialist support that makes it possible for children to be cared for at home. There are currently 32 WellChild Nurses across the UK. Employed by the NHS and funded by WellChild, these paediatric nurses help children and their families with issues such as ventilator-assisted breathing, physical and learning disabilities, tube-feeding, seizure management and chronic debilitating pain.

Rachel, a WellChild Long Term Ventilation Nurse Specialist, is based at Nottingham Children’s Hospital. Her role is part-funded by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), which has just awarded the charity a grant of £110,000 to fund a similar post in Derbyshire. Rachel, like her fellow WellChild Nurses, not only supports children with complex medical needs and potentially life-limiting conditions, but also provides support to their families.

The grant is the latest in a relationship between the charity and the MCF that spans almost two decades. ‘WellChild is a well-respected organisation, and there is clearly a demand for its services,’ says Les Hutchinson, Chief Operating Officer at the MCF. 

Every year, the MCF gives more than £5 million to charities across England and Wales. Its latest grant to WellChild Nurses brings the total figure awarded to the charity to £240,000. ‘This is one of our larger grants, built on a relationship of trust and understanding, and seeing the impact of their work over a number of years,’ Les explains.

‘We wanted to fund provision in Derbyshire as there is a clear need. WellChild has already identified 90 children in the area in urgent need of support,’ he says. ‘Not only does this care-at-home model constitute a tremendous saving for the NHS, it also means that children are able to experience life as a child, to do things they would miss out on if they were in hospital – like going to school, sleeping in their own bedroom, going on family outings.’

TAILORED CARE

Rachel, like the other WellChild Nurses, responds to the needs of individual children and their families. She will be involved in planning and coordinating a child’s transition from hospital to home – it’s estimated that 12 per cent of children in paediatric intensive care beds could be looked after at home were there enough support for them. She will ensure that necessary equipment, care and support are in place for the child and their family. Rachel is also able to provide practical respiratory nursing care at home.

Besides dealing with these practical issues, her job has an emotional element to it too: ‘My role can be very supportive. Some of the children’s medical needs are complex, and caring for them at home can be stressful for parents. Families are often under a considerable amount of pressure.’

While no two working days are the same, for Rachel, they always begin by checking her work phone for texts and emails. ‘I always have a look first thing to see if anything has occurred overnight,’ she says.

After seeing her own two children off to school, Rachel grabs breakfast on the run and usually arrives at work by 8.30am. ‘Some days I might be office-based, doing paperwork, writing reports and making phone calls,’ she says. ‘I might have a child coming in for review, and some days we have a multidisciplinary outpatient clinic, headed up by our consultant, during which we will see existing patients and meet newly diagnosed children and look at their needs and support.’

Those outpatient appointments number some 10,000 a year, according to Jo Watson, lead nurse for Derby Children’s Hospital, where the new WellChild Nurse will be based. ‘We manage inpatient and outpatient services here, as well as the children’s emergency department,’ says Jo. ‘Many children with complex needs don’t have a formal diagnosis and because of the way the NHS is currently funded, there is no defined care pathway for them… there are gaps in service.’

‘Not only does this care-at-home model constitute a saving for the NHS, it also means children are able to experience life as a child…’ Les Hutchinson

BEST PRACTICE

The funding of the WellChild Nurse will, says Jo, ‘allow us to provide better coordinated care for those children with numerous illnesses who need attention from different hospitals and healthcare professionals.’ Jo hopes that, as well as coordinating this care, the new WellChild Nurse will network with their peers to bring best practice back to Derbyshire. ‘The grant is about enhancing the quality of care we offer. It’s a leadership role.’

Along with being a bridge between families and the hospital and community teams, Rachel provides training for anyone who may need to help with a child’s care – from family members to school teachers to Brownie leaders. She also organises and conducts sleep studies in the child’s home overnight.

‘Breathing difficulties often happen at night, so we do sleep studies to make sure oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are where we want them to be,’ says Rachel. ‘We make sure ventilators are working, and if anything is wrong we make necessary changes, perhaps trying new forms of ventilation or new regimes. All of this can now be done at home, rather than necessitating a hospital stay.’

If no such study demands her attention, Rachel heads home. ‘Then it’s time for teenage homework – I change my hat as I walk through the door and turn back into a mum.’

Find out more at: www.wellchild.org.uk

Support for Sophie

One of the children supported by WellChild Nurse Rachel Gregory is 11-year-old Sophie. She and her twin sister Erica were born at 24 weeks and have cerebral palsy. Sophie’s condition is more severe than her sister’s and she has a number of conditions including epilepsy, chronic lung disease and scoliosis, which requires 24/7 care. Sophie is ventilated at home and her family attends to her many medical needs.

‘Rachel has been instrumental in keeping Sophie at home,’ says Leanne Cooper, mum to the twins and nine-year-old Kyla. ‘She is a constant support and the link between us and many of the healthcare professionals we deal with. She makes sure everything runs smoothly for Sophie, ensuring she is at the centre of all decision-making so she can live a full life.’

Leanne is a member of the parental advisory group that works with WellChild to help shape its strategy. She is also one of the parents who started the ‘#notanurse_but’ campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the level of medical care parents provide for their children at home.

‘Years ago, many of the children we work with would not have survived their conditions,’ says Rachel. ‘In the past 10 years, things have really changed and long-term ventilation at home is much more viable. Technology and medical decision-making have really advanced, meaning our children can now live full and fulfilling lives at home.’

Published in Freemasonry Cares

Helping hospices with more than £10 million

Hospice charitable support is close to the heart of Freemasons’ community work and that of the Grand Charity.

In 1984, a major project was conceived that would provide regular funding for hospice services throughout England and Wales. Many hospices already received support from local Freemasons, but due to ever-increasing running costs, it was agreed that additional help was needed. Since then, the Grand Charity has funded hospice services every year, supporting the ongoing compassionate care – physical, social and spiritual – they give to patients and their families. The hospice programme is one of the Grand Charity’s most popular grants.

Freemasons are passionate about supporting hospices and each year grants are available from the Grand Charity for all hospice services that receive less than sixty per cent of their income from the NHS. These grants are awarded for running costs only and no contributions are made to capital appeals, meaning the money goes directly to caring.

Later this year, The Freemasons’ Grand Charity will announce that it has donated more than £10 million to hospice services since 1984. Providing help for hospice services is very much at the heart of masonic charitable support and the Freemasons’ community work – but that is only part of the story.

In order to commemorate this achievement, the Grand Charity is compiling a collection of real stories (to be released later this year) that illustrate why supporting hospices is of such importance. To share your story, contact Siobhan McCarthy, head of marketing at The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, by 12 September: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 020 7395 9385, or at the charity’s address above.

 

Published in The Grand Charity
Sunday, 01 May 2011 16:00

Giving Help In Difficult Times

In recent months the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) has seen an increase in demand for support with the cost of respite care.

As local authorities across England and Wales are forced to reduce their budgets, carers requiring essential breaks are more at risk of being unable to access the support they desperately need. ankfully, the Masonic Samaritan Fund is able to help carers get the breaks they need during these difficult times.
Many people provide vital care for a loved one – a partner, a parent or a child. is will often involve helping someone with some of their essential daily tasks such as bathing, dressing, eating and moving around the home. Many carers have to reduce their work to accommodate their caring role, or give up work entirely, which will have a huge impact on their household finances and savings.
Caring for someone can be exhausting, expensive and have a serious impact on the carer’s health. All carers, whatever level of care they provide, need a break. Regular breaks can help to ensure that someone can cope with their caring responsibilities and provides the essential time and space needed to recharge their batteries.
The MSF can help in the following ways:
Residential respite care – where the person being cared for goes away to be looked after by someone else for a few days or a few weeks, for example in a care or nursing home;
Domiciliary care – where support is provided in the home to help out with some of the carer’s responsibilities for a few hours a day.
In 2010 the Fund helped 134 carers and their families with respite care breaks. If you, or someone you know, could benefit from a break from their caring role, contact the Grants Team on 020 7404 1550 to see if help is available.

EASING PRESSURE ON THE NHS

The NHS has been tasked with finding £20 billion of savings by 2014. is is likely to have an eff ect on a very large number of patients. However, the impact will be felt the greatest by the most vulnerable of our society – older people, and those with disabilities and mobility problems.
The MSF is well placed to help those facing lengthy waiting times for operations and care on the NHS during these difficult times. Support is available towards the cost of many medical treatments, including surgery for cancer, heart problems, replacement hips, knees and joints, spinal surgery, cataract removal, prosthetic limbs and many other serious and painful conditions. In 2010 medical grants were awarded to over 300 people to help them get back on their feet – literally!
If you, or someone you know, has been assessed as needing surgery or treatment on the NHS, but face a wait and cannot aff ord the cost of private treatment, please contact the Grants Team.

Published in Masonic Samaritan Fund
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