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'The centenary seems to have helped create a wave of positivity'

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This year is very special for learning disability nursing as 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the profession.

It all started way back in 1919 when the UK’s first learning disability nurses were registered under the title of mental deficiency nurses, later to be renamed mental sub-normality nurses and mental handicap nurses before becoming learning disability nurses in the 1990s.

Some of this terminology is obviously no longer acceptable today, but in another 100 years people may look back and feel the same about terminology such as ‘learning’ or ‘intellectual’ disability.

”Learning disability nursing is in my opinion nursing in its purest and most holistic form”

Society is constantly changing, and one of the main reasons that learning disability nursing has been around for so long is the profession’s ability to change with the times, constantly striving to improve not just care, but the lives of people with learning disabilities.

Learning disability nursing is in my opinion nursing in its purest and most holistic form. It is a profession that is hard to define however, because of the diversity of roles and settings that learning disability nurses work in.

Learning disability nurses work in hospitals, in the community, in care homes, in schools, in forensic settings, and in advocacy to name but a few, but even though the roles are different, the aims and goals remain the same.

Learning disability nurses are passionate and committed specialists who work with people who have learning disabilities and their families with the aim of improving the quality of life they experience and the quality of care they receive.

This isn’t just because of the ‘different’ skills that learning disability nurses possess – ‘communication and patience’ are the usual ones that get mentioned, instead it’s because as a profession we are taught from day one to look at the ‘whole person’ rather than a list of medical conditions, meaning that areas of need such as social interaction, mental health, spirituality and equality are all areas that receive as much consideration as medical conditions.

This is not meant to be disrespectful to nurses from other fields as we often have more time to get to know the people we support, but the learning disability field can often be overlooked as ‘not real nursing’, which could not be further from the truth.

Since the creation of the role back in 1919 much has changed, with care provision moving from the large institutions to much more integrated, person-centred and community-based care. There is still much work to be done however, and health inequalities mentioned as far back as 2001 in reports such as Valuing People and Death by Indifference are still prevalent today, clearly demonstrating that the system is still not working as well as it could.

Campaigns such as STOMP (Stopping Over Medication of People with Learning Disabilities, Autism or Both), Treat Me Well and Paula McGowan’s #Oliverscampaign, which aims to make autism training compulsory for all NHS staff will hopefully help to improve care, but as students we can make a difference now by not just quoting phrases like ‘person-centred care’, ‘inclusion’, and ‘choice’ but by actually understanding what they mean and practising what we preach from the very first day we spend in practice.

During the three years I have spent training I have really been able to experience first-hand the positive impact that learning disability nurses make on the lives of people with learning disabilities and their families.

Initially, at the start of my course, there seemed to be a lot of negativity surrounding the profession, with universities struggling to fill the places on learning disability courses, and negative reports about the future of the profession, but this seems to have changed over the last 12 months.

It seems to me that the 100-year anniversary and prominent annual conferences such as Positive Choices and Positive Commitment have helped to create a wave of positivity, and the profile of the profession has been raised in the process.

I for one can not wait to qualify, and although I will not be around to see the next centenary, I will be proud to qualify, and I will be proud to call myself an RNLD.

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