Parish nurse Jennifer Gault is a first in Northern Ireland

Jennifer Gault is Northern Ireland's first parish nurse.
Image caption Jennifer Gault was born in Limavady and is now Northern Ireland's first parish nurse

It's a model of nursing that exists all over the world, but has arrived in Northern Ireland for the first time.

Jennifer Gault, from Limavady, County Londonderry, has been a fully-qualified nurse for many years, but has taken on a new role known as a parish nurse.

Parish nurses are more common in England and the United States, but there are thousands across the globe.

They support local health services but also take into account the emotional and spiritual needs of patients.

Ms Gault will work with Limavady Methodist Church to help alleviate pressures on GP services and hospitals.

GPs, social workers and the church will all refer patients to her.

"We look holistically at the welfare of the community and congregation," Ms Gault told BBC News NI.

"We look at the body, mind and soul in the community and help to improve health.

"There are gaps in the service. We have an ever-challenging healthcare service now."

What is parish nursing?

  • Parish nurses are registered nurses who are appointed or employed through a local church or Christian organisation
  • They work in a complementary way to the NHS, adopting a holistic approach focusing on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs of communities
  • A parish nurse provides health education and support, helping people stay healthy or managing periods of poor health and aiding recovery from illness
  • They offer general medical advice and act as a signpost or referrer to specialist services when needed
  • There are around 15,000 parish nurses globally in more than 30 countries

Ms Gault, who doesn't carry out invasive work, has been doing the job for six weeks.

Local people are "excited about the role", she added.

"Health is not just about operations, injections and drugs. It's about being a listening ear to help alleviate some of those concerns.

"People are living a lot longer and people have more complex needs. My job is to fill in the gap between the church, the medical profession and the community itself.

"It's exciting because it's the first here in Northern Ireland.

"On a professional level, it's what a lot of us got into nursing for."

The Reverend Paul Gallucci, who has been at Limavady Methodist Church for five years, said he first heard of parish nursing a "good while ago" and thought it was an excellent idea.

"It's a great resource for any community.

"The role is funded at the minute by the Rank Trust and I'm confident it will help our local GPs out, who have been under so much pressure and stress."

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