I have been working as a learning disability nurse for 13 years now and have been told throughout my career that I am not a ‘real nurse’ and that I should ‘reconsider my options’. I know I love my job, but what does learning disability nursing mean to me?
I grew up with a sister with a learning disability. Trish was starved as a baby and taken in to care when she was just 2 years old. At the time, she had the worst nappy rash that the hospital had ever seen. My family adopted her and as far as I knew, Trish was the best sister in the world but when Trish and I were teenagers, I started noticing a difference and remember asking my Mum… ‘Why isn’t Trish treated like everyone else?’
Trish has taught me that the ‘hidden’, ‘forgotten’ and ‘misunderstood’ populations should have the same rights, choice and voice as everyone else in society and my job is to make this happen within healthcare…
I have learnt that I have so many transferable skills – I have worked in Malawi in some of the poorest villages to help educate people about basic healthcare. I had to create ‘easy-read information’ to support this, as so few adults from the villages could read and write. I have volunteered in the children’s and adults’ institutions in Romania, whereby I introduced the concept of a ‘care plan’ and built a sensory room. From there I quite literally ‘untied adults’ and was able to give some adults their first ever bath. I have managed several nursing teams in London, and have worked for NHS England to help embed early learning after Winterbourne View.
I am now working as the Designated Nurse for Safeguarding Adults in Beds CCG and part of this role entails working with people who experience homelessness, people who hoard or people who are experiencing modern day slavery and try to help facilitate and advocate improved health outcomes for underserved client groups. I feel privileged to work with the police, fire brigade, GPs and social care most days, and my job makes every single day different.
So what does being a learning disability nurse mean to me? Being a learning disability nurse means always advocating equality. Always empowering people to have a voice and make their own decisions about their healthcare. It means challenging professionals and systems to ensure fair access to healthcare, regardless of complex personal circumstances. It means training people to support a better understanding of the needs of the most vulnerable people within society. And it means seeing the whole person – not just a small part of a person.
My sister is my inspiration but I don’t think she will ever fully appreciate that. I think I just annoy her!
So, as part of learning disability awareness week, I ask that next time you see a person with a learning disability or anyone else who might be a part of the ‘hidden community’, please, stop, smile and say hello. You might be surprised how much a person with a learning disability can teach you about yourself.