When you’ve been hospitalised, the last thing you want to think about is the state of your hair. But for Black patients in intensive care, it can be an issue.
And this is what spurred a long-serving nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London to launch an initiative for some of the illest people under her care.
Intensive care Sister Ginny Wanjiro was concerned that hospital supplies did not cater for some of her patients’ needs.
Her solution was simple but hugely impactful: she sourced some different styles of combs and brushes that could be used on all hair textures – as well as moisturisers suitable for people of all skin tones.
Wanjiro has been working at Guy’s and St Thomas’ for 20 years as a nurse in intensive care for 14 years and was inspired to start her project after looking after some very sick patients during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We had so many patients coming to intensive care from all over the country during Covid and they were so ill,” Wanjiro said of that gruelling time.
“Our patients have diverse backgrounds and although we kept them alive, we didn’t have the tools to look after their hair properly. All we could get were little white combs which just didn’t work, especially on Afro-African hair. Some patients’ hair got so matted we had to cut it off, which was heartbreaking for me.”
Wanjiro’s pilot, which is still in process across four intensive care units at St Thomas’ Hospital, aims to give personalised care for all patients and to provide the right combs and moisturisers, particularly for people of Black and minority ethnic heritages.
It’s not just tools. Nursing staff are being trained in how to care for different hair textures and skin types, then look after patients with the appropriate comb, which patients can keep after they leave the intensive care unit.
To date, 20 nurses have already been trained with more joining daily to look after the hair of around 250 patients during the three-month trial. If successful, the initiative may be rolled out more widely across the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust – and throughout the NHS and country.
Wanjiro’s vision for how patients should be cared for also comes from personal experience after her father became ill, then sadly passed away. He had been perfectly groomed throughout his illness, which she said was a comfort to him – and their family.
“That is the face that always stays with me and that’s what I want to do for my patients’ relatives too. It’s those little things that really count,” Wanjiro said.
“I ordered a range of combs including afro combs, wide-toothed combs and detangling brushes, while colleagues in dermatology advised me on the best moisturiser for most skin types.”
“We’ve had good feedback from patients’ families, which is so satisfying. You feel like you are doing something good.”
Judy Kim’s mother Lan Kim was one of the first patients in St Thomas’ intensive care to benefit from Wanjiro’s project – and she thanked nursing staff for creating the new initiative.
“Mum told me she really liked it,” Judy Kim said. “She had brought her own small comb but it didn’t really work as well. She had her hair brushed, and said it was gentle on her scalp. The brush was lightweight so she could brush her own hair and she asked me if she could keep it once she leaves ICU.”