Out of the four fields of nursing, learning disability nursing seems to one of mystery. The role and existence of learning disability nurses is still questioned frequently and our specialist skills are often overlooked. So, what is this enigma that we call learning disability nursing?
There is no clear definition for learning disability nursing and in a way, it shouldn’t be defined. I feel that learning disability nursing could in some way be compared to that of a giant jigsaw puzzle. You must juggle all these different pieces of a puzzle trying out different techniques to make them fit together to get the best result. However, there sometimes seems to be a piece missing or the pieces don’t seem to fit, quite right. This is why learning disability nurses must be creative in adapting traditional interventions to ensure person centred care is provided. It’s essential to work with others to complete the jigsaw and so that it all falls into place.
Now the role of a learning disability nurse isn’t actually to complete giant jigsaw puzzles (although that would be nice!). The role of a learning disability nurse is to provide care to people of all ages; who have learning disabilities; right from their first breath until their last. Our transferrable skills mean that as learning disability nurses we can be found working in a range of settings such as community nursing, forensic settings, hospital wards, respite centres and much much more! Because people with learning disabilities access a wide range of mainstream and specialist services, it means the scope for learning disability nurses to also work in these areas is expanding! Learning disability nurses must be flexible in their care approaches to accommodate for the ever-changing services that are available to people with learning disabilities. The care provided by a learning disability nurse ranges from health promotion, self- harm management, sexual health advice, safeguarding, tracheostomy care, behaviour support, work with offenders and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! This field of nursing covers a vast spectrum of physical, social and psychological health needs that people with learning disabilities have.
It is statistically shown that people with learning disabilities die 16 years sooner on average than the general population and a high proportion of these deaths are due to people not receiving the right health care. Therefore, it is vital for people with a learning disability that we as a nursing group exist and our specialism continues to work towards supporting people to access the health care they deserve, which they often don’t receive. We must challenge inequalities at the same time as being a voice for people with a learning disability, whilst preventing avoidable and/or premature deaths.
I’m sure this post hasn’t ironed out our job role. But learning disability nursing is not a smooth surface and while on the journey to becoming and being a learning disability nurse there will be lots of turns, bumps and road blocks, but it is such a rewarding job role especially knowing that every day you are making a difference to people who belong to the most vulnerable group in society.
(Anna Johnson & Sian Adcock – student nurses)