An award-winning Lewisham nurse who has dedicated nearly 40 years to caring for patients has reflected on her incredible career.

Debbie Brown, 57, is an advanced nurse practitioner at Burnt Ash Surgery in Lee, but her years in the profession have seen her work all over Lewisham since the age of 18.

“I was raised by my grandparents and used to spend all my time bandaging them up. From a very little girl I wanted to be a nurse,” the mum-of-three told News Shopper.

Mrs Brown, who was brought up in Lewisham and now lives in New Eltham, entered the world of work as a Co-op shop assistant aged 15. Within two years, she had begun a career as a dental nurse and quickly ended up on the ward in Lewisham Hospital.

“I always wanted to look after people,” she recalled.

Over the 39 years she has worked as a nurse, Mrs Brown has seen the profession change drastically.

“From starting at the age of 18 in 1980 when we didn’t have computers and everything was on paper, so much has changed.

“Patients were not as unwell back then as they are now. They just didn’t live as long.”

As the NHS is tested under greater pressure than ever before, Mrs Brown reflected on how primary care in GP surgeries is being affected.

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“The pressure in primary care is the overwhelming demand and reduced capacity. There are times where things have been really tough and that’s down to sheer workload and not enough staff,” she explained.

This demand can often be felt in practice nursing, when some patients will require extra time with the nurse practitioner to discuss a diagnosis or receive extra support.

"I sometimes go out to the waiting room and apologise for delays, but I explain that if you needed extra time, you'd get the same attention from me."

While a career in nursing requires hard work and training, Mrs Brown stressed the importance of also being able to emotionally support patients and families.

She recalled a patient at Sydenham Children’s Hospital when she was just 19 years old.

“I had an unwell young child of 18 months old. I can still remember that time on the ward when we knew he wasn’t going to survive and it was such a sad time but we built up a relationship with his family.

“We had honest conversations with them all the time. I remember I would sit with the family for an hour after I had finished my shift.

“Everything you say, your body language and everything is important. The young child eventually died, but that was one of the turning points for me and taught me about the emotional side of the job.

“You learn about how to support others when you’re feeling very sad yourself. It gave me the skills to be the nurse I am now,” she told News Shopper.

And it is these skills and her dedication to nursing that landed Mrs Brown the Chief Nursing Officer’s Gold Award for Nursing last month, leaving her “gobsmacked.”

After being led into a staff room filled with her colleagues by Ruth May, chief nursing officer for NHS England, Mrs Brown, a self-confessed chatterbox, recalls being jokingly told to keep quiet as she was presented with the award.

“You know what it’s like - tears come out of your eyes and you can’t stop it.

“It felt a bit surreal. I’m listening to these things being said about me and it was completely out of the blue,” she described.

And Mrs Brown’s family were equally overwhelmed with her accolade, as she described her husband, Ken, and three grown-up children as “so excited” for her.

As well as her dedication to nursing over the last four decades, Mrs Brown was commended for her commitment to raising the profile of advanced nurse practitioners and practice nurses across the country.

In 2015, she became the first nurse consultant in primary care in England and has also done work with the Royal College of Nursing.

Despite her incredible achievements, Mrs Brown insists none of it would have been possible without the incredible support of her colleagues.

“We’ve absolutely got each other’s backs. I’ve always felt appreciated by colleagues and by families.

“It sounds like a cliché but you’re only as good as the people you’ve got around you.

“I love being a nurse and I love working in Lewisham. There have definitely been some sad times in this job, but there are so many more happy times.”