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As a general nurse, do you feel confident supporting patients with a learning disability?

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Learning disabilities are rarely addressed in the majority of nurse training, and four adult student nurses at Bradford University believe this has to change.

To discuss the issue among student nurses, Sam Wallace, Sarah O’Donnell, Sian Jackson and Dorcas Lambert have organised an adult student nursing educational and awareness raising event.

The event is for student nurses across the country and focuses on the complexities of mainstream services for patients with learning disabilities.

“The vision is that delegates who attend will use the experience, knowledge and resources to take back to their universities and workplace to inspire other nurses,” Sam says.

The four student organisers are all Care Makers and want their work from the event to be linked back to Jane Cummings’ 6Cs. Sam says their main focus is to support service users and patients with learning disabilities by providing those who care for them with more skills to support them.

There were several inspirations behind the event. One was a report from 2007 called Death by Indifference that led to further research into premature deaths in patients with learning disabilities. Death by Indifference reported 12 cases where people with learning disabilities died as a result of being ignored by healthcare professionals or a lack of appropriate treatment.

“We want to answer those issues and address a topic that’s under the spotlight in the media,” Sam says.

The report in 2007 inspired a two-year Confidential Inquiry into these premature deaths. Out of 247 deaths of people with learning disabilities, the investigation found that 37% were avoidable. The goal of the conference is to substantially reduce the occurrence of this problem.

“It’s about making people wake up to the fact that they have to control the situation themselves,” Sam says.

Sarah O’Donnell says she wants to lift the profile of learning disabilities so nurses realise that they are all one team and every person deserves the best possible care.

“LD knowledge is needed by everyone within mainstream services as service users with learning disabilities are people first and we look after all people and support them when they are unwell,” Sarah says.

The inquiry found some people are excluded from proper care because they don’t communicate in orthodox ways. For example, a man died after 23 days of starvation because he couldn’t communicate to the staff that he was hungry.

“We want to directly impact patient care by providing people with more info and tools and the skills to go back and share with colleagues,” Sam says.

They hope to provide this info to over 300 attendees at the conference. They already have 160 students from across Yorkshire and the event is open to all universities across England. They’ve even invited service users to gain their input.

“I wanted to open the eyes of student nurses to the complexity of LD and create a conference which would be interactive and give them skills and confidence to care for anyone with an LD that they meet in practice,” Sarah says.

Sam says he and his team want the event to be carried forward as a legacy event that doesn’t go away. He wants to help reignite the discussion around standards of training.

“If we can open the discussion to have more learning disability degrees in universities across the country, it will really make an impact,” he says.

The event is completely free and will take place Wednesday 14 May at Bradford City Football Club.  

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