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'It's the nurses who don't realise how little they know about learning disabilities that scare me'


After hearing some of the views held about people with learning disabilities, Claire realised just how important it is that this area of nursing is taught to all branches

Claire Harries_SNT

The way nurses are trained has changed over the last few years. Nurse education has been degree-only in Wales for some time, with learning disabilities being covered in all fields.

This has to be a good thing, right?

People with learning disabilities access the same services as you and I so it makes sense that staff employed in all areas of the NHS should have an idea of the types of extra support that may be required by an individual.  Getting things right from the beginning can even help save time and money lost through missed appointments etc.

I’m sure you will have heard it before but I am a firm believer in “every contact counts”. 

That appointment letter that doesn’t get sent out in an easy to read format or the impatient GP receptionist at the end of telephone can have more of an effect than we realise. As with us all, one bad experience can leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

At the University of South Wales, people with learning disabilities regularly come along to lectures where they help deliver and take part in sessions.

The response to this from students has been mixed. There have been those who have found it a truly valuable experience and those who appear to find it a waste of time.

One student nurse even remarked that she didn’t see the point of people with a learning disability coming in to our classes as she wouldn’t be working with them and had already been ‘exposed to them’. Exposed? Them? Glad to see her non-judgmental side shining through there! 

I don’t believe for a second that her views reflect the majority of general nurses; there are narrow minded people in all walks of life. It’s fresh in my mind because just this week I had a text from a classmate saying that she was mad with a bank HCA she’d been working with, who happened to be a third year adult student. I couldn’t believe what she said and the text actually made me laugh.

Here are some of the questions the student asked my friend:

1) So, do your kind of people all live in a hospital?

2) What happens when they get ill, where do they send them?

3) How are we supposed to look after people like that?

4) What’s that thing where they all look similar?

I really don’t understand how somebody can make it to their third year of a nursing degree and have such a limited understanding. It’s enough to make you cringe really.

I suppose the positive thing to take from this is that the student is at least asking questions. Better to ask now than continue on blindly. It’s the people that don’t even notice they might not know as much as they could who scare me. The ones who leave patients without food and fluids because they didn’t realise a little extra time and support was needed.

Some people ask why we need learning disability nurses at all.

The answer is obvious.

We are like the special forces of nursing. It doesn’t matter who a patient is or in what setting; we have a very particular set of skills, skills that have been acquired over years of training (I feel like Liam Neeson). We are able to adapt and use our knowledge with patients covering the whole spectrum.

Learning disabilities nurses work with children, adults and the elderly.


Claire Harries is Student Nursing Times’ student editor for learning disabilites branch (2013/14)



Readers' comments (3)

  • Gerry Jones

    another great article Claire, well done

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  • this wasn't a specialty I had ever heard of during my training or career until quite recently. it was not included in my training although this did cover a very broad spectrum of subjects which has stood me in good stead throughout my career. it is outside my range of specialisation although some background knowledge to enable some further insight and understanding of this area would have been useful.

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  • Gerry Jones

    another way in which Claire proves her lack of intellect, Tyly girl

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