Cancer research, homelessness and prison pregnancy peer-groups triumph in New Year’s honours

Cancer research, homelessness and prison pregnancy peer-groups triumph in New Year’s honours

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Professor Melvyn Greaves of the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) has been honoured for his vital work for leukaemia research, along with Dennis Rogers, for spearheading a mentor-scheme which bridges the gap between the homeless community and medical experts, and Diana Parkinson for collaborating with midwives to create a new framework for supporting pregnant women in prison more sensitively.

Where children were once excluded from clinical trials, Professor Melvyn Greaves has been knighted for his thirty-five year dedication to exploring the causes of childhood leukaemia.

Greaves commented on his ‘wonderful journey’ which has helped unveil the truth behind an illness historically redolent with fear:

“I feel very privileged to have been able to contribute towards the unpicking of this once mysterious and lethal disease.”

His Nature Reviews Cancer paper is groundbreaking in its examination of genetic mutations and lack of exposure to infections revealing how these can cause cancer developments in children.

Diana Parkinson, has also been honoured for founding the Birth Companions charity; which formed

off the back of a campaign about the shackled experience of a pregnant woman at Whittingdale Hospital.

She reached out to a UK antenatal teacher to offer prisons assistance where women have often been left alone, with 36% of those receiving their care showing signs of perinatal anxiety or depression.

The experience can be traumatic because women often have difficult familial relationships and their differing crime profile to men see’s them locked up for ‘a lot less minor crimes’, according to Parkinson.

“The women talk about how they feel like we’re family to them.

“We’re there for that individual woman; as a pregnant woman or new mother, not as a prisoner.”

She pointed out the ‘trauma-informed approach’ adopted by the trainees so the women can make more informed decisions:

“We’re always led by what a woman wants.

“We help her to make that clear to other people that are supporting her.”

Their ‘Birth Charter’ has been implemented across four UK prisons including Peterborough, outlining standards of care women should receive during the process of pregnancy or separation.This work has lead to their partnership with the Royal College of Midwives.

It provides recommendations where there are ‘no specific standards’ for female prisoners, according to Parkinson, highlighting her pioneering attitude honoured in the New Year’s list.

Her team supported 115 women in prison from 2017-2018, according to the charity’s Impact Report.

“We’re often there to hold a woman’s hand, mop her brow and encourage her.”

Dennis Rogers, 58, spent ten years living on the street fighting a battle with alcoholism which eventually led to rehab. He has used this experience to spearhead the Groundswell charity’s Homeless Health Peer Advocates (HHPA) scheme to help others sleeping rough, receive medical attention where doctors have avoided engaging with them.

Like Diana Parkinson, his work at Vauxhall’s charity runs sessions for women’s emotional wellbeing and sexual health.

Fifty-three percent of homeless people have experienced chronic pain and nearly a quarter have been diagnosed with arthritis, according to a Groundswell research study.

“If anyone needs to go to A&E and they’re on methadone … the doctors always take too long to sign it over.

“People in our circle aren’t very good at hanging around .. they just go off and discharge themselves.”

Rogers’ HHPA initiative can cover costs for hospital visits and health information which crucially aids the 28% of homeless people who turn to opioids as a way to manage the pain themselves. It is because ‘we still speak their language’ that his peer advocacy role at Groundswell has tapped into the community’s needs and been awarded an MBE.

“I never dreamt ever that I’d get something like this.

“Even if it encourages one homeless person to see there is change, it can happen.”

Please see the Birth Companions website https://www.birthcompanions.org.uk/, Groundswell’s schemes: http://groundswell.org.uk/ and Melvyn Greaves paper: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41568-018-0015-6

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