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Spotlight put on learning disability nursing ahead of awareness week

The group who have been discussing training nurses in coping with learning disability patients at the School of Health Sciences at the Edith Cavell Building.  From left, student Becky Herdman, student Ruth Flowerdew, lecturer Steve Wilkinson, parent and service user Michael Dye, student Millie Settle, and course director Kirsty Henry. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The group who have been discussing training nurses in coping with learning disability patients at the School of Health Sciences at the Edith Cavell Building. From left, student Becky Herdman, student Ruth Flowerdew, lecturer Steve Wilkinson, parent and service user Michael Dye, student Millie Settle, and course director Kirsty Henry. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

"You don't choose learning disability nursing, it chooses you."

Those were the words of one student at the University of East Anglia (UEA) ahead of learning disabilities (LD) week, as more is being done to make the career and the opportunities it brings known to the wider public.

Ruth Flowerdew, Becky Herdman, and Millie Settle are all studying for a degree in LD nursing at the UEA.

They are part of a small cohort - mainly it is believed due to a lack of awareness around the speciality - amid a national recruitment crisis in nursing generally.

But their role has never been more important in ensuring those with LD get the physical healthcare they deserve, as women with LD were expected to live 18 years less than those without LD, while men with LD were expected to live 14 years less.

The group who have been discussing training nurses in coping with learning disability patients at the School of Health Sciences at the Edith Cavell Building.  From left, course director Kirsty Henry, lecturer Steve Wilkinson, student Ruth Flowerdew, student Becky Herdman, parent and service user Michael Dye, and student Millie Settle. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe group who have been discussing training nurses in coping with learning disability patients at the School of Health Sciences at the Edith Cavell Building. From left, course director Kirsty Henry, lecturer Steve Wilkinson, student Ruth Flowerdew, student Becky Herdman, parent and service user Michael Dye, and student Millie Settle. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“I fell into LD nursing,” said Miss Flowerdew, from Norwich, who is in her second year of study.

The 29-year-old said: “I didn’t know it existed until I applied for the course. I think LD had been hidden away but thankfully that is changing.”

For Miss Herdman, 28, also from Norwich, she was inspired to look into the career and make a difference after working with a little boy as a teaching assistant. She said: “He was not getting the services he should have been, and I kept being told I was just a teaching assistant.”

While Miss Settle, also 28, and from North Walsham, had previously worked with people with LD.

Second year learning disability (LD) nursing student, Ruth Flowerdew, speaking about training nurses in coping with LD patients at the School of Health Sciences at the Edith Cavell Building.  Picture: DENISE BRADLEYSecond year learning disability (LD) nursing student, Ruth Flowerdew, speaking about training nurses in coping with LD patients at the School of Health Sciences at the Edith Cavell Building. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

She said: “I often saw a flaw in physical health and their physical health was not recognised and I used to get frustrated.”

The difference the nurses can make was underlined by Michael Dye, 72, whose daughter 44-year-old Sarah has LD.

Three years ago Miss Dye had to have some dental work done at hospital. Mr Dye said: “At that time they didn’t have any LD nurses, the nurses who did look after Sarah did not understand how to treat her.”

He said when his daughter came to she shocked the staff by trying to leave the ward.

Third year learning disability (LD) nursing student, Becky Herdman, speaking about training nurses in coping with LD patients at the School of Health Sciences at the Edith Cavell Building.  Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThird year learning disability (LD) nursing student, Becky Herdman, speaking about training nurses in coping with LD patients at the School of Health Sciences at the Edith Cavell Building. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“All she wanted to do was get up and go home,” he said. “The nurse afterwards said she didn’t really know how to deal with her.”

Now, he said, things had improved but only thanks to health leaders recognising the importance of LD nursing.

Kirsty Henry, course director in LD nursing at UEA, said LD nurses were now in hospitals, community healthcare, mental health, prisons, education, and anywhere else you might expect to see a regular nurse.

But there was still some way to go to increase visibility for those who might be interested in the career.

Second year learning disability (LD) nursing student, Millie Settle, speaking about training nurses in coping with LD patients at the School of Health Sciences at the Edith Cavell Building.  Picture: DENISE BRADLEYSecond year learning disability (LD) nursing student, Millie Settle, speaking about training nurses in coping with LD patients at the School of Health Sciences at the Edith Cavell Building. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

She said: “Where LD nurses do different and really well is we work with what this individual is about. And we build whatever support we have got in place around their needs and aspirations.”

• Learning Disability Week runs from June 18 to 24. The county’s hospitals will be running various events or to find out more about LD nursing visit www.uea.ac.uk/health-sciences

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