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'People with learning disabilities face extreme prejudice but keep on fighting to have a valued life'

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We talk to Jim Blair, consultant nurse, intellectual (learning) disabilities at St George’s Hospital London and senior lecturer in intellectual (learning) disabilities at Kingston University and St George’s University of London, who has been a nurse for approximately 20 years.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

I have always believed that people with learning disabilities too frequently get a poor deal regarding their health and wellbeing. So I wanted to play a part in seeking to address this.

Where did you train?

London South Bank University, Guy’s and St Thomas’s, Lewisham and Southwark Social Services as well as the Bede Café. I undertook a learning disability nursing and social work course leading to a joint qualification as a learning disability nurse and social worker.

What was your first job in nursing?

Community learning disability nurse.

Whom have you learnt most from in your nursing career and why?

I am always reminded about a person’s worth and value and the human spirit when engaging with people with learning disabilities and their families. They frequently face extreme hardship and prejudice but keep on fighting for the right to have a valued life and receive the care that meets their needs.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the profession?

Embrace opportunities and ensure at all times you engage with the person and their families. They are the experts by lived experience. As health and social care professionals, we can never know what it is like to live their lives, but must tune into their experiences to assist them appropriately.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

Playing some part in enhancing the healthcare experiences and improving the health outcomes of people with learning disabilities. I also enjoy seeing when a student has really got the concept of genuine meaningful inclusion and they realise they are able to work effectively with people with learning disabilities and their families.

What’s your proudest achievement?

Ensuring people with learning disabilities and their families are actively engaged in their care as well as improving on hospital practices by being on committees, on panels interviewing staff and teaching health professionals.

What do you think is likely to change nursing in the next decade?

The need to adapt and not be bound by certainties in service structures, technologies, cultures and processes. Nurses will need to be increasingly flexible and to ensure genuine inclusion of patients and their representatives in their care.

What do you think makes a good nurse?

Someone who wishes to fully engage with and assist the person they are supporting/caring for in a respectful and dignified manner. It is essential to always focus on the person and not on the tasks.

If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?

Greater patient and representative involvement in all healthcare setting so that we can provide the services we really should do in partnership with those who receive them.

What would have been if you were not a nurse?

I would have loved to have played for West Ham but I don’t think I had the talent.

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