Northern Ireland news

'Guardian angel' rural health visitor nominated for major award

Health visitor Noreen Ferguson (right) has been nominated for a prestigious award by Co Fermanagh mother Olivia McManus (left) for her support to her family as they struggled to cope with their son's autism diagnosis
Seanín Graham

A HEALTH visitor serving some of the most rural villages in Northern Ireland has been nominated for a major award by a mother who described her as a "guardian angel".

Noreen Ferguson (57) from Belleek in Co Fermanagh, has been singled out for her support to a family struggling to come to terms with their child's autism diagnosis.

Based in her own town, the former nurse - who was on night duty in Enniskillen's Erne hospital for 16 years before returning to university to study for a degree - has a caseload of more 230 children and works across the villages of Belcoo, Garrison and Churchill, which have no Surestart programmes or creches and limited public transport.

Passionate about her work for the Western trust, Mrs Ferguson said the role of a heath visitor in rural communities has never been more important during lockdown due to the "huge amounts" of post-natal depression as well as parents coping with children's challenging behaviours in isolation.

She tested positive for coronavirus herself in April.

"I'm a great believer in getting to know my families and visiting them often. I was off work for two months after I got Covid but I'm very much back now. I offer my parents a visit in their homes, the garden or outside the house and I don my full PPE," she said.

"It's very much up to the families and nearly all of them want me to visit. Nurses have done an invaluable job during the pandemic but health visitors are on the ground and going to work. We live in a beautiful part of the world but it can be difficult for those who are isolated and lonely, especially working mothers. Covid hasn't helped."

She spoke of her shock after discovering a local woman, Olivia McManus, nominated her for a prestigious national Royal College of Nursing award. She is up against four other health professionals and is the only person from the north to be shortlisted in the 'Patient's Choice' category.

Mrs McManus' son Dáire was showing developmental delays when he was two-years-old, which were picked up by Mrs Ferguson during a review.

"My husband and I struggled to come to terms with the diagnosis. Our hearts were breaking but Noreen helped and guided us with every aspect, so we are now better equipped to deal with it," Mrs McManus said.

"She has not only helped and guided our family, but also acts as a rock for the whole community. Some would say it's her job, but Noreen is more than that to a whole community, all of whom admire her friendly and practical approach, where we see her as a true friend, confidante, counsellor, therapist and mother figure.

"She is like a guardian angel, who shows great empathy and gives families strength and confidence."

Due to the pandemic, this year's awards are open to public vote at www.rcni.com/patients-choice-vote.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news