Services & Support

What is an Admiral Nurse?

what is an admiral nurse

Paula Smith is national lead for the Royal British Legion Admiral Nurse service, and she told The Care Magazine what her role involves, the difference they can make and the how the British Legion is expanding its services to help the growing number of people living with dementia in the UK.


The number of Admiral Nurses in the UK has increased almost tenfold since Paula Smith took up her first post in 2001.  However, there are still many people unaware of the vital role they can play in dementia care.  So, what is an Admiral Nurse?

Paula has led the Royal British Legion’s team of Admiral Nurses in Lancashire since 2012.  She explained: “We are specialist, qualified nurses with vast experience in working with people with dementia, and we receive additional support and training on a monthly basis to maintain that specialism.

“As an Admiral Nurse, our client group is the family and not the person diagnosed with dementia,” said Paula.  “We don’t provide hands-on care ourselves; our role is about supporting other professionals and the family so they are able to care for their loved one and continue to live well.”

The Admiral Nurse model came about when the family of vascular dementia sufferer Joseph Levy CBE BEM decided that they needed more support than was available at the time. Working with their consultant psychiatrist, they developed the model that exists today.

The family of Joseph Levy CBE BEM, who founded the Dementia UK charity, named the Admiral Nurses. Joseph had vascular dementia and was known affectionately as ‘Admiral Joe’ because of his love of sailing. (

Paula explained: “The family decided that what would help them the most would be a nurse who had a really good understanding of dementia; who understood what the family were going through; and who knew about the services within the NHS and could guide, direct and advocate for them.”

As a result of this, Dementia UK piloted the first Admiral Nurse scheme in 1990.  They developed it in 1994 when the organisation became an officially-registered charity, steadily increasing the number of Admiral Nurses to the 220 that operate in the community, care homes, hospices and hospitals today.


The Legion in Lancashire


When the British Legion reviewed its own care and welfare strategy in 2012, it identified the Admiral Nurse model as a way to further help its ageing population of beneficiaries, and subsequently teamed up with Dementia UK to provide its own service.

“It was about looking at what people wanted for themselves,” said Paula. “It is about empowering people and enabling them to look after themselves and do what they wanted to do, and part of that was recognising that we had an ageing population as well as an increased incidence of dementia, and deciding that we need to support our beneficiaries in their own home.”

The British Legion has a long and proud history of providing care homes and break centres for its beneficiaries.  However, with the percentage of over-75s in the ex-service community rising from 28 percent to 46 percent between 2005 and 2014, the Legion recognised that more options for care were required.

“Two Admiral Nurse services were developed in 2012 within the British Legion,” said Paula. “The first one was in Lancashire, which was identified in the UK because we have a high proportion of beneficiaries over the age of 65 in comparison to other areas of the country.

“The service was set up with three nurses, but we very quickly recognised that there was a huge demand for the service so we increased that to four nurses.”

Further reviews prompted the Legion to set up new services, which now run in various parts of the country including Liverpool, which got its first Admiral Nurse in August this year.


Personal touch


Given the nature of the specialist support they provide, Admiral Nurses can be an invaluable part of a family’s ability to cope with dementia and can assist at any part of the journey in which they are needed.

Paula said: “We work with families at their own pace. We work to enable the family to understand and cope with what’s happening, as well as enabling the family to stay together at home for as long as possible.

“It’s a really rewarding job and a very privileged job, in that people welcome us into their families,” said Paula. “That’s a very privileged place to be – just them opening up their doors to us and enabling us to make a difference to their lives is what most Admiral Nurses would say we get out of our job.”


How do we find an Admiral Nurse?
You can find your local Admiral Nurse team on, or by contacting the dementia helpline on 0800 888 6678 or by email at
If you are a beneficiary of the Royal British Legion (if you or your spouse has served in the military), you can contact the Legion’s Admiral Nurses in Lancashire on 0333 011 4311, or visit for more information.

Have you benefited from the Admiral Nurse service?  Let us know on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or comment below

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