I qualified as a Registered Learning Disability Nurse in 2012. Upon qualifying, I was lucky enough to obtain a developmental post as a Community Learning Disability Nurse (CNLD). I thoroughly enjoyed this role and was given lots of opportunities to progress.
I especially enjoyed working across different services and between settings and sharing my knowledge with other nurses as well as learning from them. Working in an iconic health park in Merthyr Tydfil fuelled my passion for this, and I formed robust relationships with nurses within primary and secondary healthcare and realised how well we worked together to ensure all health needs of people with learning disabilities were being met. For me Learning Disability Nursing is so very empowering, and I could see the difference that my work was making to the lives of people with learning disabilities and their family carers.
It has been clearly evidenced that people with learning disabilities have poorer physical and mental health needs than the general population (Heslop et al 2013, Mencap 2007). Some of these health inequalities relate to the barriers that people with learning disabilities experience when accessing health care and health screening services. These barriers are well documented within numerous reports including Death by Indifference (Mencap, 2007) and the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) report Equal Treatment (DRC, 2006).
The barriers detailed within these reports include discrimination, indifference, lack of training and a very poor understanding of the needs of people with a learning disability by secondary health care services. In addition, a subsequent independent inquiry chaired by Sir Jonathan Michael (Healthcare for All, 2008) identified that high levels of health need within people with learning disabilities were not being met and people with learning disabilities were receiving less effective care than they were entitled to receive.
Within the multi-disciplinary team, we helped support adults with learning disabilities overcome any barriers in their care pathway, and supported them to access equitable healthcare. During this time, Learning Disability Liaison Nurses were posts were being implemented, and evaluated in different parts of Wales, however, I was keen to evidence the work that CNLDs were doing to support access to healthcare in my team and in other parts of Wales.
Professor Ruth Northway based at the University of South Wales encouraged and supported me to apply for a PhD studentship to conduct research, which would explore the role of the CNLD supporting adults with learning disabilities to access secondary healthcare. I was successful in obtaining a fully funded PhD studentship with RCBC Wales. The health board were supportive of my studies, and allowed me to continue my role as a CNLD whilst working part-time and completing my research on a part-time basis. I felt fortunate to be able to combine my clinical role with an academic research role.
My studentship finished in January 2018, and I am now finalising my thesis ready for submission. I have recently been successful in gaining a post at the University of South Wales as a ‘Practice-based lecturer’, which commenced in March.
Author: Stacey Rees
If you are interested in a career in learning disability nursing then places are available at USW for a September 2018 start. NHS Bursary available.