Gutsy Women: Debi Evans

Debi Evans always liked the photograph of herself in her clean, crisp and smart nurse’s uniform. In those days, that uniform represented so much—and for a number of reasons. Firstly, it attested to the hours of professional study and work experience to which she had personally committed to become a state-registered nurse. Secondly, her uniform declared her as a professionally qualified nurse for the National Health Service, and woe betide any nurse of the Seventies who failed to keep her uniform immaculately neat, tidy and clean. 

The reputation of the hospital, ward, matron and nurse herself depended upon military-grade smartness. No travelling to a hospital in your nursing attire back then, as the uniform was not to be sullied by contact with bus, train or car seats. A petty rule? No this was a serious issue to minimise dirt and the spread of infection from outside the hospital. You travelled in civilian clothes and changed into that uniform in the hospital, to arrive on the ward on time and ready to go.

Importantly, Debi stresses that she regarded the day-to-day personal care of patients to be a critical part of nursing. Washing, bed baths, teeth cleaning, cups of tea, fresh water, flower arranging and time for a chat with a lonely elderly patient were a loving part of the work of a nurse. Improving the mental state of a patient provides a major boost to any other treatment, she says.

While nursing had embraced Debi’s more caring side, all was to change as Debi’s life moved on from professional nurse to full-time mum, with all the commitment that that brings. Her motherly duties were increased by the fact that her sons were autistic and needed much additional support and care. If they got this from Debi as their mother, they certainly did not get appropriate care for their special needs at school, where they were cynically abused. Worse, Debi was soon challenged and accused by aggressive Social Services staff who insisted that the problems were of her own making.

A very gutsy Debi was not to back down, and she took the fight to the courts, where she won her case against the local authority and its failures after years of work, even exacting an apology from her false accuser, drawn like blood from a stone. The experience taught her a great deal about autism and the lack of guidance on the special needs of autistic children and adults. The knowledge that she gained in fighting her own case and the tenacity she applied in using it ultimately enabled her to become a government advisor on autism. 

On top of all the effort, stress and anxiety within her family life that the court battle caused, Debi was also faced with the unpleasantness of a home regularly subjected to sewer floods after heavy rain. Despite evidence gathered—photographs, video footage, flooded neighbours, roads closed and warning signs—Debi was to be refused a resolution or redress. She was to discover that Cornwall Council and South West Water simply tossed the who-holds-responsibility ball to each other continually. 

Twenty years later, she still lives in a valueless ‘at risk’ house, with crippling insurance premiums. Those whose houses are on the DG5 register, rendering them valueless at resale, are not informed of the fact. She is still fighting for recognition and compensation, and yet also has the strength and determination to be a much-valued reporter with UK Column.

Join us in this interview with our own Debi Evans, nursing correspondent, where we lean more of the gutsy woman herself and what makes her tick.


See also the No Smoke Without Fire series, co-hosted by Debi, and the UK Column interview of Prof. Christian Perronne.