Case Study: Kimberley Ashwin – ‘Training is in need of revamping’
Kimberley Ashwin is 18 months into a new senior learning disability nursing role, which involves working with adult mental health services across four counties.
She has come a long way since she qualified with a diploma of higher of education in learning disability nursing from Oxford Brookes University in 2011, opting for the diploma route because it came with more bursary. “I had children and needed a better income,” she says.
Her first job was working as a staff nurse in general adult nursing at a community hospital. “All the way through training we were told it was getting to the stage when learning disability nursing wouldn’t be around and we should really get some ‘proper’ nursing experience. So I thought I would go and see what it was like in mainstream and see if I could influence that way.”
Like other learning disability nurses she has encountered prejudice and confusion around her role.
“On the flipside if we had someone come into the ward with a learning disability, autism or a mental health problem all my colleagues would be freaking out going ‘Oh my god! I don’t know how to support them’ and I was like ‘Why are you so scared?’”
She went on to work as a community learning disability nurse, working her way up from band 5 to band 7.
“We have got a population of nurses that are phenomenal leaders”
Her new job as a mental health liaison nurse for learning disability and autism with Oxford Health Foundation Trust is a pilot role that sees her support clinicians across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Wiltshire and North East Somerset in inpatient and community settings to make the reasonable adjustments needed to ensure people can access mainstream services.
She has taken extra modules to convert her diploma into a degree and will go on to do a Masters.
She believes learning disability nurse training needs “revamping” with a greater focus on “neurodiversity” and conditions like autism, ADHD and acquired brain injury alongside learning disabilities.
She also believes the profession is a potential source of dynamic leadership that could benefit the whole NHS.
“In learning disability you are trained from early on to positively challenge colleagues and have those difficult conversations, which is a key part of leadership and management,” she says. “We have got a population of nurses that are phenomenal leaders, which is completely untapped.”
Case study: John-Marc Comperat – ‘I would like to influence policy’
John-Marc Comperat is nearing the end of his degree in learning disability nursing at the University of South Wales.
He came to the profession via a somewhat convoluted route, initially doing a variety of support worker roles in general medicine before leaving healthcare to complete a degree in sound technology then working in the music industry for a number of years as a recording engineer.
But he realised something was missing when it came to job satisfaction and he came back to healthcare to be a support worker in a small private residential setting for older adults with a dual diagnosis of learning disabilities and mental health problems.
“I was terrified,” he admits. “It was my first job in a learning disability setting and I had no idea how to support someone with a learning disability. Turns out you support and treat them exactly the same as anyone else with reasonable adjustments in place.”
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He went on to work at Wales’ Learning Disabilities Directorate based at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board.
He then worked as an associate practitioner on an assessment and treatment unit at Llanfrechfa Grange Hospital, which supported him to embark on nurse training via a four-year route offered at the University of South Wales, allowing students to do their first year part-time over two years.
“It was really appealing to me considering I was a mature student with a mortgage and commitments – dropping from a Band 4 full-time wage to nothing was just unfeasible,” he says.
While students still qualify for a bursary in Wales, and there are learning disability nurses in prominent roles in government and education – the head of the school of care sciences at South Wales is an LD nurse – he believes learning disability nursing is still labouring under an “identity crisis”.
“Citizenship and inclusion for people with learning disabilities in society goes hand in hand with learning disability nursing,” he said. “When that moves forward then learning disability nursing will be dragged along with it. But it does need a more strategic approach.”
This is why he is keen to move into policy and research once he graduates as he feels this is where he can make the biggest impact.
“I would like to end up working somewhere where I can influence policy because I think the only way to bring about broader changes for our client group is at the strategic level,” he says.