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STUDENT BLOG

'Do you know how to care for a person with a learning disability?'

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Six student nurses from across Scotland, hundreds of hours of placement experience in a diverse range of healthcare settings and three years of university lectures on nursing. But what did we know about how to care for someone with a learning disability? 

Embarrassingly little.

With only three years to achieve a nursing degree it is difficult to cover the hundreds of different topics but with 26,000 adults and 16,000 children and young people with a learning disability in Scotland alone it is inevitable that we will be in contact with them.

Therefore is it not essential that we learn how to care for these people properly? To give them the equality, dignity and respect they deserve?

This is how I, along with five other students, together with NES began organising an event to change the current learning programme to enable student nurses and midwives from across Scotland to interact with people with learning disabilities and attend various interactive workshops. It would be a chance to learn how they liked be cared for and to inspire students.

All of this was also done with the intention that the students would want to teach future students what they learnt from the event and hold similar events in future - hence the name of the event, ‘Building Momentum’.

I soon realised that the journey we had embarked on was huge. Would it run smoothly? Would the student nurses, midwives and guests turn up? Would the day be a success?

In the moments after the event began I knew that it would.

A large amount of students came and the hunger for knowledge and enthusiasm in their eyes was refreshing. Throughout the day there was laughter, lots of learning and even tears from everyone that attended.

I am aware that some people attend such events simply for free food but I am positive that everyone left having learnt something new and feeling inspired.

We had much praise and many good reports from the day. We have since won an RCNi Award; I couldn’t be prouder of my team.

One talk in particular really got me thinking.

It was all about legacy and whilst I was listening to it I suddenly realised that this event was my legacy. I was part of a team who had managed to impact 200 students in a meaningful way. If this type of event continued for future students then how many more could we reach? This could potentially have a huge impact on the NHS in Scotland and how people with learning disabilities are perceived and treated in our healthcare settings.

It could, in turn, potentially save lives.

A person with learning disabilities is four times more likely to die of a preventable disease than a person without due to a lack of time spent listening to them, a lack of communication from healthcare professionals and a lack of respect for people with learning disabilities.

I strongly believe that giving student nurses from all fields of nursing and midwives the confidence to care for and communicate with people with learning disabilities and an education on learning disabilities can make a difference. It is inevitable a person with a learning disability will be in our care in our careers, particularly as often they have more physical and mental healthcare needs.

So - as a student nurse at least - this is my legacy. What will yours be?

Sinead McLean is a current student nurse

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