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Jeannie Szumski - a pioneer of mental health care

03 May 2018


There are not many people who can say they helped to create the first NHS counselling service for the people of Luton, but Jeannie Szumski can claim just that.

Jeannie, a Practice Nurse and Partner at Lea Vale Medical Group in Liverpool Road, had originally planned a career in social work. But, her career took a completely different direction after she became a Healthcare Assistant in St Albans before studying for university. She enjoyed it so much she decided to train as a nurse.

At the age of 19, Jeannie started training as an NHS nurse at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital. While working as a staff nurse she became increasingly aware that she was seeing many patients in emotional distress, without anywhere to send them for treatment or help.  This inspired Jeannie to start counselling training during a career break to have her children.  

Jeannie started working in General Practice as a nurse in 1990 and her new counselling role first operated from the Lea Vale Surgery in 1991, but it proved so popular and successful with patients that it wasn’t long before the team grew and took on more counsellors. At its height, the team had grown to include fourteen counsellors, who operated from different surgeries and sites around Luton. The counselling service continued running until 2015, helping thousands of patients to receive vital help along the way.

“I still see some of the patients I used to treat, while I am at the shops or in everyday life, who come over and say thank you for the support that I gave them,” says Jeannie proudly.

“I loved the counselling service and being able to help so many people, and I love being a Practice Nurse now. I still enjoy the new challenges I face every day, and I love being able to support patients in Luton to a better quality of life”.

Jeannie has also had an input into developing Practice Nursing in Lea Vale into ‘the position it deserves to be in’ by utilising her skills. Jeannie’s vast experience at the NHS means that she has been able to take on more responsibility as a Practice Nurse, working more autonomously. She currently takes an interest in several specialist areas including treating patients with diabetes, dementia, learning difficulties, as well as mental health.

Jeannie also had the privilege of being a Luton CCG Board member for several years, using her knowledge and experience of working with the Luton population.

When talking about everything she has achieved so far and what the NHS has done for people in its 70 years, Jeannie said: “I am proud of setting up the counselling service and proud to have been one of the first nurse Partners in a GP surgery. I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful people over the years and am extremely proud to be part of the NHS which has made a huge difference to people’s lives since it was founded in 1948.

“As I often tell my patients ‘you can walk around the world if you just take one step at a time!

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