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'Does everyone think learning disability nurses are not real nurses?'


Learning disability student nurse, Vishakha Abbi, wonders what other cohorts make of learning disability nurses

Sitting in a lecture about public health, the lecturer, who is a midwife, starts talking about social care and asks the learning disabilities nurses to identify themselves.  

We put our hands up.  

Many nurses in my cohort did not even know that learning disability nurses existed, let alone what they do

She very politely says to us: “I suppose you don’t like being referred to as nurses because you’re based out in the community, you’re more like social workers aren’t you?”

There are gasps from my colleagues around me but I respond calmly.

“We like to see ourselves as nurses as primarily we are concerned with the health needs of our service users. However, we are based in the community because that’s where our client base is and we do look at issues such as housing and social needs as these are interlinked with the health of an individual.We like to look at things in a holistic manner to address the needs of the individuals in our care”. 

The lecturer thanked me for my response but it made me wonder, do other nurses think that we aren’t real nurses?

As I am coming to the end of my first year, it’s dawned on me that many nurses in my cohort did not even know that learning disabilities nurses existed, let alone what they do. We are rarely based in hospitals and not in the public eye and many of our colleagues are perplexed at what our jobs entail.

People with learning disabilities are very much like the general population. They suffer from the same diseases. They have the same emotions and the same needs and wants as everyone else. 

What some do lack, however, is understanding of what is happening, how to prevent it and how to deal with it.

As a learning disability nurse it will be my job to ensure that an individual in my care is able to maintain or improve their physical health and mental well-being, to reduce the barriers they face by having a learning disability and to support them in achieving a fulfilling life. More than anything it will be my job to advocate on behalf of people with learning disabilities, to be the messenger between a big and possibly confusing world and to translate information in a digestible format for the individual.

Many people with a learning disability also have a genetic syndrome.  Certain syndromes can also be the cause of other health issues.  For example people with Down’s syndrome are more likely to suffer with dementia later in life and at an earlier age than the general population.  We can start screening for this early on which then leads to early intervention, prolonging the person’s mental well-being.

More than anything it is our job to educate. Educate carers on providing the best care, educating service users on health issues, educating the public on issues facing people with learning disabilities and educating our colleagues on how best to respond to someone with learning disabilities should they be entrusted into their care.

By being present in the community and coming to their homes we will make reasonable adjustments for someone that might find a visit to the doctor’s surgery a daunting prospect. 

Without learning disabilities nursing, vulnerable people who have a different view of the world would not be able to access health care in the same way you and I do. 

Vishakha  Abbi is a student learning disabilities nurse studying at Greenwich. 


Readers' comments (4)

  • Perhaps the LD nurse role is new to her. I am a HCA due to become a student nurse shortly and we are aware that all nurses have differing specialities and that the LD nurse is one of them, especially as you deal with health AND social issues. On a recent open day we were given talks by a children's nurse, mental health nurse, adult nurse and LD nurse. The LD nurse was knowledgeable and passionate about his role and at least 8 students decided to change speciality because of him. I am sure that those that work in the community have a fuller understanding of your role.

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  • I have been a support worker for 10 years working within learning disabilities , I am so passionate about what i do i have just completed an access to nursing and will be starting Nottingham university in September to become a LD nurse. I want to be able to share my knowledge and understanding and enable people with LD to get the care and support in the community they need and deserve to live a good life .LD nurses need to be respected like other nurses we are very specialized and can work hand in hand with other nursing groups

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  • I am about to become a first year student nurse, and I am, and always have been, in awe of the knowledge and commitment of nurses in every branch of nursing. If people want to label others, let them. It says far more about the labellers than the labelled. Just look after your patients. That is why you became a nurse.

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  • Very well said, David Baird. Couldn't have put it better myself.

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