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Harsh lesson for our teachers

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 34, PAGE NO: 31

Alex Mathieson, RGN RNMH

Learning disability nurses have always had a raw deal. Treated with disdain by nursing colleagues and suspicion by social care professionals concerned about them encroaching on to 'their' patch, they need all the friends they can get.

Learning disability nurses have always had a raw deal. Treated with disdain by nursing colleagues and suspicion by social care professionals concerned about them encroaching on to 'their' patch, they need all the friends they can get.

It is no surprise to me that their numbers have dwindled since I started training, over 20 years ago. The hospital services they once led have been largely dismantled and replaced by a hybrid community-cum-social model of care.

Never mind that the best learning disability nurses have been practising a social model of care for donkey's years or that the jury is still out on whether the new model is better than the old one. The fact is, nurses have an ongoing battle to prove they have something to offer in the care of people with a learning disability.

That's why there is both good news and bad in the findings of a new ENB study. The research, led by Professor Andy Alaszewski from the University of Kent, examines the role of learning disability nurses in multidisciplinary teams. It also analyses the effectiveness of their training.

It shows that other professionals within the multidisciplinary team value nurses. Their clinical, managerial, liaison and educational skills are admired, and they are recognised as prime sources of advice.

So far, so good: nurses finally having their unique qualities recognised, defined and valued. And don't just take their word for it. Service users and their families were also able to pick out and value the key elements of nurses' roles.

Which all makes the downside of the study so disappointing. Fellow care professionals can see the vital role nurses play and so can users and their families, but can nurse educators? Apparently not.

Nurses, senior students and employers lined up to criticise the preregistration learning disability course. Deficiencies in the teaching of clinical skills, communication, management and leadership were identified and bemoaned.

Less than a quarter of practitioners felt their course had prepared them adequately for their first jobs. And while the contribution service users can make to educating nurses is vaunted in course blurbs, none of the students interviewed could recall any involvement of people with learning disabilities or their families in their training.

Preregistration training can't cover all the bases. But what it can and must do is give nurses the proper grounding from which to launch their careers. The research suggests this isn't happening. And for a branch of nursing fighting for its very existence, that can't be good news.

Let's hope this study will help educators find out what is valued in learning disability nurses' practice and show them how courses should be changed to reflect it. Before it's too late.

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