Realising the need for a supported health system within the rural community, Richard Schofield helped to establish Field Nurse, a scheme which has sent health professionals in to auction marts and the rural community to provide a service to those who need it most.
Emily Ashworth finds out more...
Farming isn’t your everyday, nine-to-five job.
It’s a way of life – and one which demands physical and mental strength, day and night, 365 days of the year.
And it is for that reason many in the rural community seem unable to find the time to visit the doctor, regardless of any pressing physical health issue or state of mind.
But after setting up his own mobile sheep dipping and shearing contract business and working across 150 farms in Lancashire and Yorkshire, Richard Schofield found many farmers were unloading their daily tribulations upon him.
And so the creation of Field Nurse began, an initiative that aims to provide the community with health advice via drop-in clinics, currently at Clitheroe, Brockholes and Gisburn Auction Marts.
“I have always thought there should be something set up to help rural communities,” says Richard.
“Going back to my dipping days, when you set up your dipper and you were letting the water fill, you’d usually start a conversation and those chats stuck in my head.
“They felt better after they’d unloaded a lot of their problems and I’d think, why don’t you go and see someone, or go to the doctor?
“It wasn’t just me they would do it to. They would be doing it to anybody who was a regular face. You could tell when there was a problem.”
It is probably down to his nature, says Richard, that people felt he was easy to talk to and as we’re sat chatting on a bright and crisp winter’s morning, his kindness and eagerness for helping people appears in abundance.
Keen to kickstart the process, Richard approached Clitheroe Young Farmers in 2016 to see if there was chance to work with them on his idea of getting rural health support.
A twist of fate, or perhaps just luck, but that day Roger Dugdale, owner of Dugdale Nutrition, had been in to talk about that very same idea too and, after a meeting of mutual ideas, Richard went ahead.
With £10,000 raised by ?? Young Farmers and a donation from the Louise Hartley Memorial Fund, the support was evidently there – but he then knew there were key elements to ensure his theory would work.
He says: “I approached Gisburn and Clitheroe Auction Mart and they said yes, let’s go ahead and do it but I knew I needed money to pay the nurses and insurance, too.
“I then went to Crossroads Care in the Ribble Valley, for whom I’m a trustee, and spoke to the chairman.
“I wondered if there was any way we could attach Field Nurse to their policies, procedures and pay structures and they agreed.
“Next, I needed nurses and heard about a local nurse, Jane Spurgeon, who had just retired, so I went to ask her.
“I went into that kitchen that night and I wasn’t going until she said yes.
“Word spread and another nurse approached me, Helen Marginson who worked at the Clitheroe practice who said she had a day off and would be willing to help.
“We now have seven staff in those nurse roles.”
The next problem, says Richard, was to encourage people to go to see those dedicated nurses, which proved to be difficult at first.
Initially, volunteers with Field Nurse badges were sent around the marts to hand out leaflets, but it became apparent they needed to change their tactics.
“That idea fell on stony ground and we began to realise confidentiality was going to be a big part of our success,” says Richard.
“It meant we got trained nurses to go around the marts instead; people who knew how to deal with conversation and if they felt there were telltale signs there, they could steer that person and that’s how it progressed.
“We actually found people who needed something straight away were going directly to the nurses, so it’s worked out well.”
The first few months were reasonably quiet, admits Richard, but they were soon inundated, and he reiterates their services are for anyone within the rural community, not just farmers.
The main draw is no appointment is needed – if the room is empty, go straight in and if it’s busy, you can simply come back in 10 minutes.
But the essential thing is there are no time constraints on how long you can talk to the nurse.
“The big one is, ’do I need to go? Am I bothering about nothing?’” says Richard.
“The GPs are very supportive of us now, whereas at first perhaps they thought we were going to diagnose.
“That’s not the case, we don’t do that – we signpost people.”
There have been cases where nurses have sent people straight to A&E, showcasing just how vital this mechanism can be.
“One farmer came to see a nurse and was told he had to go straight to hospital,” says Richard.
“He said he would go home to milk first and go in the morning.
“He would not go in the ambulance, so his wife took him, but he was in A&E for a number of days.”
A large percentage of those who do use Field Nurse are male and aged between 40 and 60, but the initiative attracts people from all walks of life, ages and backgrounds and families have approached the set-up too, bearing the pressures of a challenging dairy farm, for example.
In these instances, Field Nurse can reach out to other farming charities such as the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, to push those cases to the right place.
Recently, they have expanded and have invested in a mobile trailer they can take to various shows across the North West and are also in the possession of an ex-NHS breast screening trailer that can be set up anywhere.
But it is Richard’s passion for rural lives in general that has propelled Field Nurse to what it is.
“I’m passionate the nurses we employ understand the rural way of life and how the rural person works,” says Richard.
“The chances are if that person can relate to them, they’ll get on and everything will be fine.”
Field Nurse is now a registered charity and was a regional finalist in the Rural Business Awards North, supported by Amazon.
On the back of that, Field Nurse was invited to Downing Street to put forward its business plan and this could lead to making more necessary connections to the NHS.
But what is most prominent is the fact that most of its donations have come from willing supporters who have the utmost respect for what Field Nurse is trying to achieve.
And it is an appreciative Richard who says that without that crucial backing of the project from the rural community itself, they would not be where they are today.