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'Everyone with a learning disability should get the treatment they deserve'

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Two members of staff from Northampton Hospital discuss the importance of learning disability training. 

debbie wigley and paul blake

Debbie Wigley and Paul Blake

Debbie Wigley and Paul Blake

Debbie

Healthcare for people with a learning disability has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the past few years.

Report after report shows that avoidable and premature deaths continue, with a lack of training on learning disability for health professionals cited as a key reason. But this doesn’t tell the whole story and I’m pleased to say I’ve seen first-hand the desire among staff to have more training and the impact this has when done properly.

Paul and I have been working together for a year now and I can honestly say it’s been just fantastic. We had a project worker with a learning disability in post at Northampton for two years before Paul, but they moved to Wales, so we recruited again last year.

We had 13 applicants with a learning disability apply and after interviewing all of them, we chose Paul. There was just something about him, we thought he was brilliant.

Paul works with me two days a week doing a variety of jobs. We keep his day as typical as possible because he likes routine, but obviously there are times when things change and we have to adapt.

Paul does his rounds on the wards and goes to check on all our patients who have a learning disability. He chats to them and puts them at ease, marking sure that they have a hospital passport – a document that gives medical staff a background on a person, what they like, dislike, and their medical history.

He also runs learning disability training with me for all our staff. This training isn’t mandatory but we get a great uptake, with lots of staff keen to learn and know more about learning disability and the reasonable adjustments that need to be made for their patients with a learning disability.

“I’ve seen a massive and very welcome shift in attitudes towards people with a learning disability”

It’s so important that the training and all the work Paul does is done by someone with a learning disability. He is an expert by experience and it’s much more meaningful coming from him. In fact, I’d say Paul has done more for learning disability in the last year than I have managed in seven.

I’ve seen a massive and very welcome shift in attitudes towards people with a learning disability and I hope this continues as more and more are listened to and included.

This week – Learning Disability Week – Paul and I are supporting learning disability charity, Mencap’s Treat Me Well campaign and have been attending various events and steering groups in the hope we can spread the word about better healthcare for people with a learning disability.

I hope that maybe one day every hospital can have a Paul, not only for the employees themselves, but for the benefit of all patients and staff, so that everyone with a learning disability gets the treatment they deserve going forward.

Paul

I felt so lucky and thankful when I heard I had an interview for the project worker position at Northampton Hospital. I was so nervous beforehand, but I did my best and then all I could do was wait for the call.

When Debbie did call me and told me I’d actually got the job, I couldn’t believe it. I asked her so many times if she was joking. Once it finally sank in I felt really pleased.

I love my job and helping people with a learning disability. One of my main tasks of the day is to check in on patients to see how they’re doing. I sit and chat to them, or just listen if they need it. Hospitals can be a scary place when you’re not well and I want to put people at ease.

I also check that they have their hospital passport, this is very important and will help them and the staff to understand what they need.

The training I do is really fun and I enjoy helping staff to understand more about learning disability. We get mainly nurses coming along at the moment, but we hope to have doctors and the wider staff, too in the future. It’s so important that people with a learning disability get the medical treatment they need and deserve and if I can help educate people, then I’m proud of that.

“It’s such an important campaign”

My biggest challenge when I first started in my role at the hospital was finding my way around the different wards, but Debbie has been so fantastic and supportive and helped me to learn my way around. She really brings out the best in me in all areas of my work.

I had to undergo a lot of training on safety procedures when I first started, just like every new starter does. Debbie and the rest of the team made sure the training was accessible for me. I did lots of practical training rather than, as Debbie says, ‘death by PowerPoint.’ It is much easier for me to understand things when they’re practical.

I’m really looking forward to Learning Disability Week and supporting Mencap’s Treat Me Well campaign. It’s such an important campaign and I hope it will help towards achieving fairer healthcare for everyone with a learning disability.

Debbie Wigley is a learning disability nurse at Northampton Hospital and Paul Blake is a learning disability project worker, who works alongside Debbie two days a week. Paul also has a learning disability.

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