I am an adult nurse who started their training in 1980. We received education and training across many spheres of nursing practice, but nothing specifically about the specific needs of people with learning disabilities. I worked in a long stay mental health facility for 8 weeks during my training, people with severe mental illness were mixed together with people who had learning disabilities and some people who probably started off with little in the way of an illness of any kind. As general nursing students we were able to offer some more general nursing care, after all everyone develops physical illness. The first time I encountered patients who were learning disabled was when I was a District Nurse. I had little knowledge of their specific needs and learned most about their conditions from their carers (family members and care home staff). What I did know was that I needed to offer care, compassion and time. I needed to give time and to listen and to use my instincts. I didn’t assume someone with a learning disability had no feelings, could not experience pain or that I knew best. My knowledge looking back was woeful, but to the best of my knowledge no one came to serious harm or died because of me.
Over the last decade or more, nurse training in the UK has been split into different areas of care – adult, children, mental health and learning disabilities. In the main nurses remain within their sphere of practice, despite the obvious cross over between disciplines. My own training failed to prepare me to care for many people I have encountered along the way, but there are ample opportunities to learn along the way. There can be compassion and there can be kindness. Yet again today I am ashamed and embarrassed by a report that suggests that nursing care in this country isn’t all it is cracked up to be. But I refuse to believe it has to be like this!