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Placements that exceed expectations: Forensic services for people with learning disabilities

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Learning disability nursing student editor, Olivia, knew there was one placement she didn’t want: forensics. But as soon as her placement started she realised her fears were unfounded

As I eagerly logged onto my student portal to find out where my base placement would be for the remaining two years of my course, I remember crossing my fingers that it wouldn’t be in a forensic service.

Low and behold I was the only a student in my year placed in the renowned medium secure hospital.

“I realise my own concerns came from fear of the unknown”

For many learning disability nursing students, forensic services are a daunting place. In hindsight, I realise my own concerns came from fear of the unknown. Thoughts ran through my mind that physical assaults were going to be a day-to-day occurrence.

I succumbed to the thought that I would have no choice but to harbour myself in the safety of the office for the duration of my placement. Two years locked in an office was not how I envisioned gaining my nursing experience but I’d come to the conclusion that this was now my only option. Attending break away training before starting the placement accentuated my fears.

Of course, the reality of the hospital was nothing like the picture I had worked myself up to believe, quite the opposite in fact.

“Most of the patients came to greet me when I entered the ward”

Most of the patients came to greet me when I entered the ward and were keen to show me around. I got to know the patients in my first week by playing pool, table tennis and one of the longest games of monopoly known to man.

Now, having spent 18 months in this environment, I can proudly say that working in forensic services, although incredibly tough, has given some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had since starting my student nurse journey.

“A sense of humour and a strong back bone is a necessity”

The culture that comes with working in a locked environment is unique. It is team work to the extreme that creates an ethos of total camaraderie. A sense of humour and a strong back bone is a necessity along with a completely non-judgemental mind set.

What really interests me now, and has done ever since I realised I wasn’t going to have to spend two years locked in an office, is people’s reactions to the environment in which I am working. Whenever I explain what my placement is there is usually a short, sharp intake of breath followed by an expression of confusion when I tell them how much I love being there.

“There is little opportunity to educate people in the reality of forensic services”

People’s imaginations run wild about what might go on behind closed doors. As did mine. This is not surprising considering these types of service are locked meaning only the people who work there have access, giving no opportunity to educate other people in the reality of forensic services.

It is so important that we don’t encourage negative ideas about such services as they play an extremely important role for many people within learning disability care.

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