Phil Barr

Headway Wirral leads the way for patients with acquired brain injuries

Changes come and go throughout life, but when you are caring for someone with an acquired brain injury, the transformations can be incredibly profound.

Brain injuries are common. According to data released by the NHS, around 950 people a day are admitted to hospital with brain injuries. From falls to traffic accidents, a patient is admitted to a hospital every couple of minutes.

Yet despite this, individuals with brain injuries – and the families supporting them – can face substantial difficulties on the road to recovery, and in day-to-day life.

For that reason alone, Headway Wirral was born – a local charity which provides support to individuals and families affected by an acquired brain injury (ABI).

The charity was founded in 1988 in Liscard and has supported hundreds of families across the borough.

Next week marks Brain Injury Awareness Week, and in an interview with Radio Clatterbridge’s Steve Evans, Phil Barr, the managing director of Headway Wirral, explained how their drop-ins provide a lifeline to a community in need.

Phil told Radio Clatterbridge listeners: “Quite often, the NHS staff are so busy, saving people’s lives in the unit that it’s sometimes difficult for them to sit down for an hour and talk with a relative about the treatment that they’re getting. That’s why we’re there really at the hospital.

“We see ourselves as being at the end of that line. So, when they come out of the hospital, when their lives have been saved, and the rehab has been done, we are there then to say, ‘well, you’re back home now. How can we help you, and how can we continue that support within the community?’ “

“I think it’s so important when families are dealing at the early stages of the loved one with a brain injury to have support because it’s so life-changing – and it’s not necessarily for the patients that come to the drop in. It’s also to help the families during that initial stage, and then let them know that we’re there.”

Brain injuries impact individuals in a variety of ways, from meal planning to personal finances. While awareness continues to grow around acquired brain injuries, there are still issues that need to be clarified into the broader community. What’s more, it is not always obvious when someone has a brain injury.

Phil explained: “You could chat to someone for some time and not actually realise they have a brain injury. This is why we sometimes call it the hidden disability because it’s not always evident that somebody has a brain injury.

“It might surprise your listeners to know just how many people have acquired brain injuries, and that number is actually growing, partly because of the marvellous people that places like Clatterbridge who save lives that previously would have been lost.

“Usually a brain injury doesn’t affect your longevity. So, if you were to get a brain injury at the age of 20, you’re just as likely to live till you’re 85.”

Be that as it may, we should not underestimate the impact of brain injuries. Recovery times vary from person to person, but rehab is often an extensive, time-consuming and emotional process for individuals and their families. 

Phil explained: “The way that I describe it to people is, imagine what you’re like when you’re drunk. When you’re drunk, you don’t behave in ways that you would typically do, some people might dance on the table which they never do when they’re sober.

“Now you imagine if you were like this all the time. You don’t use those inhibitions that you lose when you’ve had a few drinks. Suppose you were like that all the time. That’s a very small insight into what it’s like sometimes.

“The thing is it can change their personality entirely. And it’s one of the saddest things, to speak to a wife or a husband or a partner who will say to you that he or she looks the same, talks the same. They may even walk the same – but they’re not the same person anymore. They look the same, but they don’t behave the way they used to anymore.”

Headway Wirral ran four weekly group meetings before COVID-19, supporting over 100 members through day-to-day activities. Due to lockdown, members of the community have felt increasingly isolated. Consequently, the charity has resorted to ‘inventive’ measures to support members in a socially distanced manner.

Phil told Radio Clatterbridge: “We’ve had to try and find ways to continue that support, because many of our clients have become socially isolated now because of the lockdown. “That’s why we telephone all of our clients at least once a week, to make sure that they’re okay. We also see if there’s anything that we can do for them.

“Sometimes, it’s day to day things like, normally they might bring a letter in from the bank to the group. They would say, ‘I don’t understand what this means,’ because some of their brains might not be functioning to the level where they can understand the complicated letter.

“We can see whether they’re keeping themselves, healthy, keeping themselves well-fed, keeping themselves clean… It’s nice to speak to someone, but until you actually see them, you can’t get a real feel for how they’re doing.”

Headway Wirral continue to provide vital support to members of the public, despite the COVID-19 restrictions. If you need help and support navigating life after a brain injury, you can contact Headway by telephone on 0750 697 5261.

You can learn more about the work Headway Wirral does at: http://www.headwaywirral.org.uk/about-us/