A cut above: looking after our diverse patients in Intensive Care

Wednesday 7 December 2022

ICU Sister Ginny is sitting in an ICU room, wearing a blue nurse's tunic with white piping. She is holding different combs and brushes. There are machines and a bed in the room.

ICU Sister Ginny Wanjiro

A nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ has launched a new initiative to care for the hair of some of the most ill people in hospital, from diverse backgrounds.

Intensive care Sister Ginny Wanjiro has sourced different styles of combs which can be used on all hair textures and moisturisers for patients of all skin tones.

The pilot project, which is underway across four intensive care units at St Thomas’ Hospital, aims to provide personalised care for all patients and to provide the right combs and moisturisers particularly for people of Black and minority ethnic heritages.

Nursing staff are trained how to care for different hair textures and skin colours, then look after patients with an appropriate comb, which patients keep once they leave the intensive care unit.

So far, 20 nurses have been trained with more joining daily to look after the hair of around 250 patients during the three month trial. If successful, the initiative may be rolled out more widely across the Trust and ultimately through the NHS.

Ginny, who has worked at Guy’s and St Thomas’ for 20 years and as a nurse in intensive care for 14 years, said she was inspired to start the project after looking after very sick patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ginny said: “We had so many patients coming to intensive care from all over the country during COVID and they were so ill. Our patients have diverse backgrounds and although we kept them alive, we didn’t have the tools to look after their hair properly. All we could get were little white combs which just didn’t work, especially on Afro African hair. Some patients’ hair got so matted we had to cut it off, which was heartbreaking for me.

“I thought – what can I do as a nurse to make sure this patient is ok, to improve their standards? At Guy’s and St Thomas’ our care is world-class. I knew we could do better. I said to myself – we will not be defeated. We will make our ICU inclusive.”

Ginny’s vision for how patients should look came from personal experience, after her father became ill, then died. He had been perfectly groomed, which she said was a comfort.

She said: “That is the face that always stays with me and that’s what I want to do for my patients’ relatives too. It’s those little things that really count.

“I want all our patients to be looked after as they deserve to be, especially when they are in intensive care. They should feel the best they can and that includes having their hair nicely brushed and their skin beautifully moisturised.

“I ordered a range of combs including afro combs, wide-toothed combs and detangling brushes, while colleagues in dermatology advised me on the best moisturiser for most skin types.

“We’ve had good feedback from patients’ families, which is so satisfying. You feel like you are doing something good.”

Judy Kim’s mother Lan Kim was one of the first patients in St Thomas’ intensive care to benefit from the project, and she thanked nursing staff for developing the new initiative.

Judy Kim said: “Mum told me she really liked it. She had brought her own small comb but it didn’t really work as well. She had her hair brushed, and said it was gentle on her scalp. The brush was lightweight so she could brush her own hair and she asked me if she could keep it once she leaves ICU.”

Last updated: December 2022

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