“If I could wave a magic wand, I would find a way of treating all patients, spinal and otherwise, who did not receive as much treatment for their spinal and orthopaedic injuries as they should have done during the pandemic.”

Michelle Conlon has worked as an NHS nurse at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH) in Stanmore for almost 25 years.

In 2018, she became the Centre Manager of the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre (LSCIC), joining Head of Occupational Therapy, Emma Linley, who’s worked at the Centre for over 20 years, in being responsible for the health and wellbeing of 33 patients with spinal cord injuries, including children, and an incredible team of NHS staff.

Emma Linley, Head of Occupational Therapy (left) and Michelle Conlon, Centre Manager (right), both of whom work at the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre (LSCIC) at Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH), Stanmore

Supporting patients and their loved ones affected by spinal injury is tough. The long-term physical and mental health challenges people encounter are immense, but together the LSCIC team do everything they can to help people through this extraordinarily difficult time.

“It’s not for everybody and emotionally it’s very demanding”, says Emma.  “Staff can sometimes struggle with the emotional side of things because you want to give your patients everything.”

Whilst the outbreak of Coronavirus presented the two with an unparalleled challenge, together Michelle and Emma supported by their outstanding colleagues led their NHS team and their patients with calm confidence; something they and countless others deserve to be celebrated for this ‘NHS, Social Care and Frontline Workers Day’.

The Day will be the first time the nation has come together to celebrate the historic moment when the National Health Service was established over 70 years ago on 5th July 1948. Inspired by those like Michelle and Emma, the day is dedicated to showing our gratitude to all those who have ensured our essential services continued running and remembering all those who have lost their lives.

Whilst the summer of 2020 was one of the hardest Michelle and Emma had ever faced, working in full PPE in stifling heat to protect patients, the two knew there was a little, shimmering light at the end of a very dark tunnel; national charity, Horatio’s Garden, were close to completing their fifth stunning sanctuary for patients, their loved ones and NHS staff just beyond the windows of the ward.

As Michelle remembers, “the contractors were here smack bang in the middle of lockdown – the patients were all very entertained by the workmen and the progress of the garden!”

“And their work was so worth waiting for”, says Emma, adding, “I’d been picturing it because I’d visited the charity’s garden in Salisbury before and couldn’t wait to have a beautiful garden of our own.”

Despite supply chain disruption, the charity successfully completed Horatio’s Garden London & South East on schedule in August 2020 and since then Michelle, Emma and everyone at the LSCIC have come to know the sanctuary and the team behind it well.

“The ease of access, the constant warmth and welcoming visibility of Head Gardener Ashley Edwards, Garden Administrator Tracey McCarthy and all the volunteers are things that are so important to me and the OTs”, Emma shares.

“It makes the garden feel accessible, somewhere safe for patients to go to chat with each other and explore old, and for some new, interests.”

Michelle echoes her sentiments: “Enabling patients to have everyday conversations beyond the ward like this is so important. I have heard an enormous amount of positive feedback from patients and staff about the garden. Many people have said that upon receiving their diagnosis and prognosis they have turned to the garden for solace.”

“I love the peace and quiet too. It has allowed me to have some time away from the office and the ward, something I have certainly personally benefitted from.”

With Horatio’s Garden London & South East so firmly established in the fabric of life at the LSCIC, it’s hard to believe that the haven has only been open for less than a year.

Whilst much has been written of late about our enhanced awareness of the immense physical and psychological health benefits to be gained from greenery, this particular garden attests to much more; namely the power of hope, teamwork, determination and the ability of nature to totally transform people’s lives.

As Emma says, “I always make sure that people know that the charity began with Horatio Chapple. His parents keep his wonderful legacy alive and they should be forever congratulated.”

Michelle agrees, adding “the garden has truly changed things for the better.”

Horatio’s Garden create and nurture beautiful gardens in NHS spinal injury centres to support everyone affected by spinal injury. To date they have opened gardens in five of the country’s eleven regional spinal injury centres in Salisbury, Glasgow, Stoke Mandeville, Oswestry and London. To donate and find out more about the charity, please visit www.horatiosgarden.org.uk