I want to support the people in my care who may feel that their health is preventing them from living life to its full potential

Rhiannon James - nursing student

Rhiannon James is a third-year Learning Disability Nursing student who talks to us about what it's been like to shield during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"In 2014, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the bowel. Since my diagnosis, I have almost always been on some form of immunosuppressant medication.

Because I'm not able to work directly with people who have contagious infections, throughout my nursing degree, the university has worked to make sure that my placements would be safe for me.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, I knew that I would need to be careful

I did plenty of research, and, after getting the go ahead to work within learning disability settings, provided there were no suspected COVID-19 cases, I was both nervous and excited.

When I received a letter from the Chief Medical Officer of Wales advising me to shield, I was shocked. 

This meant I was unable to leave the house for any reason and had to avoid contact with the people that I live with. At first, I felt extremely disappointed.

I knew that this meant I wouldn't qualify with the rest of my cohort, I was anxious about how I would manage financially, and worried about losing my nursing skills by being out of practice for so long.

Fortunately, my personal tutor has given me a lot of support and reassurance during this time.

I have been able to listen to a variety of webinars to keep in touch with what is going on in practice, and my personal tutor has supported me to do a short Open University on autism.

The time I've spent shielding has allowed me to think about how this pandemic will affect the future of nursing and infection control, and, in particular how this will affect individuals with learning disabilities.

People with learning disabilities often have some difficulty with communication and may rely on loud and clear speech, or by reading facial expressions to support the communication process.

As a person who is currently shielding, I'm fortunate that I live with family members who can do the shopping and collect my medication.

I was also able to understand most of the information on the shielding letter and had the resources to read up on things I didn't understand. Many people with learning disabilities with underlying health conditions will have also been advised to shield at this time.

I will always remember this experience and will use the things I've learnt during my time shielding throughout my nursing career. 

I think about those who live alone without support and may not have the literacy skills to understand the advice they have been given.

There are times where I do still feel disheartened to be shielding, as this is the first time my illness has significantly prevented me from doing the same things as other people.
 
For the most part, I've accepted that this is how is going to be, for now. I will always remember this experience and will use the things I've learnt during my time shielding throughout my nursing career.

I want to support the people in my care who may feel that their health is preventing them from living life to its full potential."