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Highlighting the work of learning disability nurses

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At RCN congress in Liverpool last month, Nursing Times co-hosted a fringe event to raise awareness of health inequalities in the learning disability community and highlight the work of nurses

Royal College of Nursing

Shaun Lever and Serena Jones

Shaun Lever and Serena Jonest

There is little argument that the learning disability specialty desperately needs more nurses as it is currently facing what is being described as a crisis in staff shortages. For example, Health Education England has warned of a 30-35% shortfall in learning disability nurses by 2020.

The specialty is also reeling from the recent Panorama revelations about poor care at Whorlton Hall, a privately-run NHS-funded unit in County Durham, and a Care Quality Commission report on the “broken system” that sees people with a learning disability or autism being segregated in hospital.

But, while there are challenges, we must not forget the great work also being done by the majority. Learning disability nursing celebrates its 100th anniversary this year and in April Nursing Times helped shine a light on the vital importance of learning disability nurses to their patients, as well as promoting some great examples of innovation by local nurses in Liverpool.

Improving the health and lives of people with learning disabilities was the focus of a fringe event at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress, which was co-hosted by Nursing Times and NHS England’s learning disability health improvement team.

The session sought to raise awareness of health inequalities in the learning disability community, and to highlight the important role of learning disability nurses and all health professionals in addressing inequality.

The breakfast event – titled Better health improving lives: Addressing health inequalities with and for people with learning disabilities and their families – took place on Tuesday 21 May at the ACC Liverpool conference centre.

It set out current evidence-based solutions that could be immediately employed in practice to enhance and save the lives of people with learning disabilities.

Learning disabilities

Professor Bob Gates

Professor Bob Gates

Over 80 delegates heard about the work being done by learning disability nursing teams to help patients being cared for in acute settings at two trusts. Specifically, the event heard from Shaun Lever, dementia/learning disabilities lead at Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals Trust, and Joann Kiernan, consultant learning disability nurse at Alder Hey Children’s Foundation Trust and a senior lecturer in nurse education at Edge Hill University

Their examples were drawn from community, acute, social and assessment services. Those who attended the event were told such innovations would enable people with learning disabilities to “lead healthier lives and have brighter futures”.

For example, the efforts of liaison nurses to improve care through the use of health passports have reduced the median length of stay for patients with learning disabilities or autism from six and a half days in 2016-17 to four in 2018-19. Not only has this saved 1,375 bed days, but it has reduced the time patients spend in what is often for them a particularly distressing environment.

The event also featured a passionate speech on the state of learning disability nursing and lessons from the past by Professor Bob Gates, from the University of West of London, who is a member of the Nursing Times editorial advisory board.

Delegates also heard from Hilary Garrett, deputy chief nursing officer for England; Jim Blair, clinical lead for improving health and quality with the learning disability team at NHS England; and Lisa Cooper, director of the children and young people community and mental health division at Alder Hey Children’s Foundation Trust.

The positivity, innovation and desire to improve care on show in our fringe event shows the vital difference that learning disability nurses can make to this vulnerable group of patients.

Better health improving lives: Addressing health inequalities with and for people with learning disabilities and their families

When: Tuesday 21 May 2019, 8-8.45am; Where: Room 11A at the ACC Liverpool

  • Introduction – Steve Ford, editor of Nursing Times, and Jim Blair, clinical lead for improving health and quality with the learning disability team at NHS England
  • The state of learning disabilities and developments in general – Professor Bob Gates, professor of learning disabilities, University of West of London
  • The problem of health inequality – Lisa Cooper, director of the children and young people community and mental health division, Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust
  • Challenging inequality in practice by local Liverpool nurses, including ‘in conversation’ with service users and Shaun Lever, dementia/learning disabilities lead at Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust, and Joann Kiernan, consultant learning disability nurse at Alder Hey and senior lecturer in nurse education at Edge Hill University
  • Round table discussion and Q&A

Royal College of Nursing

Lisa Cooper

Source: Steve Ford

Lisa Cooper, director of the children and young people community and mental health division, Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, speaks at a Nursing Times and NHS England fringe event on learning disability nursing at RCN congress 2019

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