A senior NHS official from Newport who champions the need for private care home staff to have the same level of skills and training as those in the public sector has scored a stunning double success in major national awards.

In her high-profile job as Divisional Nurse and Head of Long-Term Complex Care for the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board based in Pontypool Claire Aston believes that the “hidden voices” of some of those in care – frail or vulnerable residents – should be heard.

It is this dedication to her caring role that has landed 54-year-old Claire first a gold then a coveted special honour in the 2019 Wales Care Awards.

The glittering presentation ceremony organised by Care Forum Wales was held at City Hall in Cardiff hosted by tenor and radio presenter Wynne Evans, better known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV ads.

Claire, who lives in Langstone, Newport, with her husband of 33 years David, took her gold in the Commitment to Training and Workforce Development Award sponsored by City & Guilds and WJEC Consortium.

And she went on to win the Spirit of Care special award sponsored by Dormy Care Communities.

Born in Hyde, Cheshire, Claire attended Harrytown Convent School in nearby Romiley and left in her teens to train as a general nurse at the Royal United Hospital in Bath.

After qualifying in 1985 she worked for two years in acute hospital services in that area before moving back north to become part of a district nursing team in South Cheshire.

She later took on a training and development role with the former Cheshire Health Care Trust where she recalls developing “a bit of a passion” for working with older people in care.

Claire put this to good effect by helping to form a nursing development unit serving five hospitals in the region as part of an initiative by Nursing Times.

Later it was back down south, this time to Wiltshire to spend the next seven years with the local community trust during which time, as a member of the senior nursing team, she played a key part in a Challenge Fund project working closely with social services to keep elderly people at home for longer with the correct level of outside support.

In 2001 Claire moved to Wales where after taking a training role in a Welsh Government Innovations in Care scheme dealing with dermatology she later helped set up a new hospital for the Monmouthshire Local Health Group.

She was Director of Nursing for the group until 2009 when the reorganisation of the NHS in Wales saw her transfer to the new Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and take up her present position.

Claire, who has two grown-up sons, Christopher and Matthew, said: “At the health board we are responsible for commissioning care from 48 nursing homes in the private sector.

“Over the past five years, with the support of a great team, I’ve being trying to get people to recognise that these private homes need the same access to training for their workforces as the statutory providers.

“There are some wonderful practices in the privately-funded sector and it’s all about making sure their staff are equipped with the skills and knowledge to deliver care to people with complex needs living in these homes.

“In the health board we have a very strong relationship with the private nursing homes within our footprint area.”

The person who nominated Claire for the award, Lorraine Morgan, an independent consultant on ageing and past chair of My Home Life Cymru, said of her: “She is a real champion of care home practice who puts residents’ needs at the heart of what she is trying to influence and achieve.

“She engages with the hidden voices – those who are frail, have complex needs and are vulnerable.”

Of her double-win Claire said: “To take gold in the commitment to training category was just amazing and a recognition of the work my colleagues and I do.

“It was a double whammy in a massive way to go on to win the special award, which I didn’t expect at all.

“I was speechless – which is odd for me – and it’s hard to describe the buzz coming up from the audience.

“It was just a fabulous night with so many fantastic people in one room and a credit to the people from the Wales Care Awards for how they had organised it.

Mario Kreft, chairman of Care Forum Wales, said the standard of entries was extremely high.

He added : “There are only winners here tonight so it is only fitting that the finalists will receive a gold, silver or bronze Wales Care Award.

“I trust that they will continue to inspire those around them as role models and encourage others to aspire to even greater heights and in the months and years to come.

“This awards ceremony is our opportunity to pay tribute and to celebrate the talent and commitment that is improving the quality of life for thousands and thousands of people throughout Wales.

”We take our hats off to them.”