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19 June 2019

Celebrating 100 Years of Learning Disability Nursing

By James Ridley

It is 100 years since the very first group signed the nursing register and became what we now call Registered Nurse Learning Disability. There were nine in that first group, six women and three men (who says men can’t be nurses?!).

The importance of that event should be celebrated as this was the acceptance that people with a learning disability should expect to be supported by individuals who are trained, have knowledge and have committed themselves to understanding the needs of people with a learning disability.

In today’s world, I would say that we have moved from the ‘should’ to the ‘MUST’. People with a learning disability, their families, carers and professionals who meet people with a learning disability MUST be supported to offer ensure that the rights of the person are respected, considered, advocated and, importantly, listened to.

As a learning disability nurse myself, I would suggest that I may have BIG ears, but listening to people with a learning disability and those around them requires much more than just my ears! This is a multi-sensory profession, where we use all our senses to support those we are trained to support.

So, what is it like to be an Registered Nurse Learning Disability?

Well I can tell you one thing: it is never dull or boring. Being a Registered Nurse Learning Disability is about working with people of all ages who have different needs and experiences and all of whom live their lives in different ways. With that in mind it is most definitely not like what you see on ‘Holby City’, and the quote “there are no jobs” is as irrelevant now as it was when it was said to me at the beginning of my career.

What it may look like is a collage, where there are several pictures which come together with the same meaning. Being a Registered Nurse Learning Disability now means that you could be working in the full range of health, social care, and education services, but you may also be working in criminal justice or acute hospitals.

Being a Registered Nurse Learning Disability is as individual as the people you support. It is about taking several steps in differing directions whilst sharing the same goal: to support. Working with people in scenarios related to their health, their relationships, being a parent, living with Dementia, going to college/work, standing with people who are smiling, laughing and enjoying life, as much as supporting someone who finds life distressing, challenging and overwhelming. You may also be one of those who they see as they close their eyes for the final time.

Respecting people’s diversity is what being a Registered Nurse Learning Disability is all about for me. The role is interesting, challenging, emotional and it’s a privilege. It’s a career that enables you to work with people across the lifespan and it’s something that I would never change; come on let’s walk together on this journey!

So, do we need more Learning Disability Nurses? 

Now obviously I will say “Yes!” But why?

I have been a Registered Nurse Learning Disability since 2004 and worked with people with a learning disability since 1991. In that time I have seen significant changes: some good and some that have made me shout and scream!

But one thing that has been consistent for me is that I recognise that people with a learning disability have a right to access everything that we may take for granted. In doing so they may face difficulties and challenges which means that “molehills turn into mountains”. Bearing that in mind, a Registered Nurse Learning Disability could, would, and should be the one who walks with the person to the molehill, steps over it with them, or begins that journey to the top of those mountains and celebrates with them when they reach their summit.

We’ve seen new molehills or mountains developing over the years with scandals, abuses and changes in services, population and policy, but as a Registered Nurse Learning Disability I have always laced up my boots and held my hand out to those who I support because I am proud to be a Registered Nurse Learning Disability.

I want to finish this with making a commitment that I will honour those who I support, those who have taken the journey to be a Registered Nurse Learning Disability, I am part of the nursing family and I look forward to contributing for as long as I can to the next 100 years.