The aptly named Centipede Club – the first of its kind in the county – launched in March at the Ludgvan Community Centre as a partnership between NHS Kernow, Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFPT), the Ludgvan Community Centre committee and the Penwith GP locality and upwards of 25 people attend.
Jayne Allen, district nurse team leader for Penzance, said: “The aim of the Centipede Club is to provide a relaxed, really sociable environment where patients feel a sense of inclusion and are empowered.
“Previously, patients would either have to attend our clinics that we held three times a week at the Morrab surgery or were seen by their practice nurse, but neither of these services was able to offer the benefits of washing and soaking the legs or the social aspect. Patients would also need to make an appointment and would have to wait for the district nurse clinic if the number of patients needing our services exceeded the capacity of the nurses.”
Anyone who is unable to attend the clinic will be visited at home by a district nurse.
While most patients were seen weekly sometimes their legs needed more attention than once every seven days.
Jayne added: “At the Centipede Club we’re doing everything clinically that needs to be done to make the person well but it’s done with laughter, compassion and empathy – it’s clinical but with a sprinkle of TLC. That’s how I see nursing.”
Three nurses from the Penzance and Hayle district nursing teams work alongside practices nurses to improve integration and patient care. They treat the legs at a dedicated workstation set up to allow the patients to chat while the health workers wash and dry their legs before applying moistures and steroid cream, if it’s required, before dressing the limbs.
At the other end of the room volunteers including Karen Thompson from Age UK serve teas, coffees, biscuits, and once a month soup of the day and a dessert.
Jayne said: “The emphasis on social interaction and collective care really is vital for the leg healing process and to reduce its recurrence. We find that some patients say that before they walk in they feel like they are not ready for a treatment but once they’re here and sat next to someone and chatting to them while they are having a treatment they will think ‘oh well it must be alright for me too’.
“We can apply full compression (bandages, which is key to the healing process) to those suitable and this reduces the need, in most cases, for the patient to be seen more than once week. If they do need to be seen more than once we can arrange for a practice nurse to see them or attend our Friday leg clinic at Bellair Health Office, Penzance.
“This was the very first Centipede Club for Cornwall and it is really thanks to the community centre committee that we have this amazing space.”
“Sandra Kavanagh (district team manager at Hayle) and I dip in and out but it’s the community nurses that are the back bone of this group, they provide the expert care and continuity for the patients.”
Eventually, the nurses want to extend the social side but also to go some way to becoming a one-stop shop.
“In the future we would like to offer health checks – we want to start looking at the whole person not just the legs. We find that as newer people join the group they are staying for longer, they sit down and have a drink and chat. Some people will come and spend the whole morning, which is absolutely lovely”, added Jayne.
For 93-year-old John Judd the Centipede Club has offered him a “first class service”.
The great grandfather from Praa Sands has attended the Centipede Club a handful of times after learning about it through his surgery in Marazion.
The retired artist said: “It’s definitely more relaxed. When you went to the surgery you had to go at a specific time and then you sometimes had to wait quite a while.
“Everyone is so friendly. To meet the same people who offer you a cup of tea before you get in, they don’t even seem to mind if you have to leave to get your medication and then come back. It’s very relaxed here, no-one seems to worry. I like Centipede as the name of the group, I think it sums up the whole atmosphere.”
Paul Smith, from St Erth, was also referred to the club by his GP surgery. He had been self-treating a leg ulcer which eventually turned into three wounds, one of which was five inches by two and a half inches by an inch deep.
The 62-year-old said the pain became so bad he was living off co-codamol.
He said: “This is only my second week but it’s quick and simple, all the equipment is here and the staff can deal with two or three customers at once.”
The Centipede Club has been such a success that it has extended its running hours to meet the demand and it is being rolled out across the county.
Jayne added: “We have already healed some people but at the Centipede Club once you’re a member, you’re a member for life. We’ll look after their legs for life if they’ll let us.”
The Centipede Club is free, but welcomes donations, and runs every Wednesday from 9am to 3pm.
Most members are referred via their GP surgeries although no one who turns up without a referral will be turned away. The group also has a room where people who do not want to be treated communally or require a one-to-one assessment can be treated separately.
Find out what BBC Radio Cornwall had to say about the Centipede Club here.