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How our nurses help people with learning disabilities

Posted by Devon Partnership Trust in Learning disability, News, Nursing on 17th June, 2020

There are over 70 learning disability nurses working across Devon Partnership NHS Trust

This week is Learning Disability Week. Here Katy Welsh, Primary Care Liaison Clinical Team Manager (pictured) talks about the challenges people with a learning disability face and the amazing work that our learning disability nurses do and the difference they make to people’s lives.

“We are great ADVOCATES. People with a learning disability face massive health inequalities and do not have the same life expectancy as someone without a learning disability.

“Rachel Salloway – Primary Care Liaison Nurse in Torquay received a referral for a gentleman who was exhibiting distressed behaviour. Rachel wanted to ensure that there was no physical basis for his behavioural presentation and liaised closely with the Specialist Dental Service to arrange an appointment. This gentleman would not tolerate an examination without sedation, so careful liaison between both the dental team, Acute Liaison Nurse, Roz Erskine-Gray, GP and carers ensured that a carefully planned admission to Day Surgery at Torbay Hospital took place, enabling this gentleman to have dental treatment and bloods taken. Following his surgery to have a number of teeth extracted, this gentleman’s behaviour was less distressed and his carers reported a significant improvement in his presentation.

“What difference did Rachel and Roz’s involvement have? There is evidence to suggest that people with a learning disability do not have access to treatment in a timely way and in worst cases, do not receive any treatment. Often, the person’s learning disability is given as the reason for their presentation (ie. distressed behaviour) and further investigations and tests are not considered. As learning disability nurses, we challenge diagnostic overshadowing frequently with other health professionals.

“As learning disability nurses, we also have advanced communication skills. We frequently help people with a learning disability to make sense of some of the information they are given and receive. Are you aware that, as a health organisation, we all have a responsibility to ensure that the information we provide people is in a format they can understand (in line with the Accessible Information Standards, 2016?). Linda Hancox – Primary Care Liaison Nurse in North Devon chairs a Specialist Working Group for Communication and with her fellow group members has produced a number of ‘easy read’ leaflets for our service. Our ‘easy read’ information not only benefits people with a learning disability, but also those whose first language may not be English or who have dementia.

“Jodie Winkler – Primary Care Liaison Nurse, Teignbridge did an excellent piece of work with a lady who required an ECG before being able to commence on medication. The lady was extremely fearful and needed a lot of time, patience and consistent support to help her understand what an ECG was and why it was important. The lady’s family were so thankful for Jodie’s help, following a successful ECG being undertaken.

“Sarah Priestley – Primary Care Liaison Nurse, East Devon and Ellan Corner – Assistant Practitioner, Teignbridge have successfully supported individuals through having cataract surgery, using accessible information about the procedure and process to help individuals understand what will happen, etc. In addition, ‘walk-throughs’ with individuals assists with the process too. Again, without learning disability nursing support, these procedures may not have taken place or been successful.

“As learning disability nurses we also have a role in raising the awareness about the needs of people with a learning disability. This applies within our organisation as well as other external health and social care organisations. Therefore we provide education and awareness raising sessions to a variety of people. Tania Andrews – Primary Care Liaison Nurse, Exeter Team and Layla Ross– Acute Liaison Nurse, RD&E Exeter deliver training for medical students; Rachel Salloway and Deborah Wakeham – Primary Care Liaison Nurses, Torbay and Roz Erskine-Gray deliver sessions for trainee GPs. Katy Welsh – Primary Care Liaison Team Manager and Tania Andrews also deliver teaching for the Nursing Associate Programme facilitated by the University of Plymouth.

“Partnership working – we also work closely with other organisations to deliver training. Sandra George – Primary Care Liaison Nurse and Amy Custerson – Primary Care Liaison Nurse, West Devon Team deliver training in conjunction with Rowcroft Hospice about Advanced Care Planning and Amy has developed an accessible Advanced Care Plan for people with learning disabilities.

“Would you miss having learning disability nurses?

“It’s the old saying “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”.

“In 2020, the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, let’s celebrate the fabulous work that learning disability nurses do every single day!”